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Ken Etete

Sharing my thoughts on change and leadership

FEDHA

It is amazing how little children respond to sounds, and the different emotions expressed through their eyes. In most cases where they can relate with it, it is a rhythmic movement of the body. We were all like that at one point in our lives. As we grew up, the sounds began to be less appealing and in some cases meaningless. The reason is not far- fetched, there is now so much noise and distraction in our lives as voices are lost in a sea of accents. The most recurring of these  sounds is the static buzz of MONEY.

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The place of money in our lives is and will always be confusing as it is most times difficult to identify its essence. Is it of any value or is it just a metric for measuring value? A popular question in our everyday life is “how much?” In truth, that question is incomplete. It ought to be: how much value do you attach to the product or service? All societies have throughout history sought to create a valid and acceptable means of exchange. Make no mistake about it; it is not a fact in issue that money is of peculiar interest to all irrespective of age, gender, race, religion or creed. Even the Church through Pope Francis bore its mind on the concept of money on the 20th of September, 2013 during the morning mass at the Vatican Casa Santa Marta. According to the Clergy, “money sickens our minds, poisons our thoughts…it drives to idle words and pointless discussions……” Believe me; this discourse doesn’t belong to that class.

I totally agree with the Pope on that point, but then again I like several of you have discovered by experience and accident that the true essence of money is to coordinate the activities between free men. Coordination is attained through simple and effective communication, which gives birth to agreement, understanding and ultimately trust. As a matter of fact, money in itself is nothing. The premium that men place on it has nothing to do with the object itself but the confidence of its acceptability. According to Prof. Charles Fried, a Former Solicitor General of the United States of America, money be it the dollar bill or gold have little intrinsic value. It is valuable because of what it stands for. It stands for all the promises people have made in order to get their hands on it. Money is a catalyst for progress. It is a vehicle for socioeconomic advancement as it represents exchange and serves as a store for trust. One undisputed reality about money is that there is never enough to go round, hence the existence of class and our daily sprint to our different hustle turfs. There is no gain saying that the value of a country’s currency affects the stability of the government. This is because the government uses money to keep society safe and drive production. It comes at a cost which could be high or low depending on a zillion factors. It costs jobs, quality of products and life, relationships, peace and even faith in a system. Why? It is simple. There is a nexus between money and happiness.

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Whatever the currency in your wallet or bank account, they are worthless pieces or representations that are cherished because we believe they are valuable. Money in Nigeria and several other countries in Africa and beyond is at risk of losing its ascribed power. The value of the Naira is dropping faster than I can say Hi! The reason for this sharp decline according to some experts is that there is poor future expectation on what the government will do. Prof. John Cochrane of the University of Chicago while talking about the value of money as a product of future expectations on what government will do said among other things that “what people think is going to happen in the future is what matters crucially to their decision about what they do today, how much to save, consume, invest, whether to start a business or not”. The ultimate solution is having a monetary policy founded on rules, laws, institutions and not discretion that enables and encourages productivity. The African case has seen so much discretion with great negative impact on the national economies. The poor are getting poorer and the middle class have gone into extinction. Yes the global economy is not doing so fine but then there are economies that are cashing out. With the plummeting price of oil, there seems to be no way out for the Nigerian economy other than through diversification; a song that now has uncountable covers.

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The way forward for Nigeria and indeed Africa in these trying times is to have utmost regard for the supply and demand for money through sustainable wealth creation and strengthening of the legal systems. The Federal Government of Nigeria like many other national governments has monopoly of money both as bills and reserves. It is therefore in her best interest to protect the value of her money so that the power of the state behind the bill doesn’t disappear. There is dire need for consistency in the legal system to endear trust. Trust for the truth, trust for equality, trust for the existence of tomorrow not determined by anybody but the rule of law. The US Dollar and British Pounds are valuable for two simple reasons; there are strong and formidable laws backing them through a genuine production chain. It is high time Africa started placing laws that guarantee posterity a seat at the table of the unknowns.  Initiating policies that will stimulate wealth for the common man is only a line item. When you narrow it down, it entails taking steps to instill confidence in the people through genuine and workable incentives for common wealth that will inversely increase the value of our money.  There are a lot of things she can do to create this much sorted wealth and it all starts with a simple policy that puts the fate of all Nigerians in their own hands. Let me use the current power challenge as a case in point to illustrate a lasting solution that doubles a source of wealth creation. The government could come up with a policy that says “every household that generates 5KVA of solar power is entitled to 1 Million Naira per month”. Imagine how many million Nigerians will take you up on that. If you look at this policy closely, the money is really of no value. The ultimate price is the power which millions of Nigerians will begin to generate. One might ask how the government is going to hold up her end of the bargain? It is simple, she gets off takers that will sell these generated power to those that didn’t generate at all and other neighbouring communities that need more power e.g. industrial parks. This simple “produce and get paid” policy can be replicated across several sectors of the economy (e.g. agriculture and automobile) to stimulate production which is the spirit behind money.  This is a positive future expectation that will instill confidence and get people to take action not for the interest of the state but for their person as long as it is properly coordinated and effectively communicated.

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 All stakeholders must realize that money/the Naira is not one of the items with which they can play politics and as such the appointment of the team of experts to maintain and promote the value of the Naira must also not be politicized. The Naira bill is the legal tender of the Nigerian state and not of any or all of the 170 million + Nigerians. Should Nigeria cease to exist, every Naira becomes valueless but the products and services retain their value. The Naira should be engineered to drive productivity to ensure that it continues to command value. A challenging but simple step to attaining this is to aggregate the entire production of the country. Statistics say that almost 70% of Nigerians are unemployed, meaning that only 30% are “productive”. So, if 50 million Nigerians can genuinely invest eight hours a day to harness our existing resources at a meager $2 per hour (if a Nigerian cannot produce $2 a day, then we are in serious trouble), what we get as ROI is $800 million per day which is far greater than the $100 million realized from the sale of 2 million Boe p/day at the luxurious price of $50 per barrel. Now imagine how this translates to elevate the value of the Naira as little or no external variable determines its worth.  Any policy that doesn’t pursue and promote productivity is an enemy of money (the Naira) and functions to demystify its value and power. Policies, programmes, solutions and institutions that encourage a genuinely verifiable and result oriented productivity driven society must be engraved in our socioeconomic and cultural tapestry through the legal system to ensure that every man gets what he is due based on the resources invested in any and every venture come rain or shine. Only then will the required trust on the relative certainty of the future reside in the hearts of the people and give value to whatever it is they call money.

A Sinking Ship

Nigeria reminds me so much about James Cameron’s 1998 movie “Titanic” with the mixture of fortunes and of course the hobnobs choice passengers had. She can indeed be likened to a ship which set sail some fifty five (55) nautical miles from her present location to a destination that is the dream of all passengers. Mind you it is not sugar candy mountain, neither is it Canaan. On board this vessel are people of different backgrounds- assassins, pilgrims, lovers, dreamers, spies; a really good cocktail of good, bad and ugly people and the sea littered with icebergs and pirates determined to plunder.

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“MV NIGERIA” has on board, passengers that have paddled canoes on streams and creeks, men that have rode bicycles and pushed wheelbarrows and therefore believe that they can captain this ship; unsurprisingly, the reoccurring decimal in this equation is mutiny. This tradition has underscored the need for purposeful leadership, transparency and unity which can be equated with bunkers, fresh water and of course food. Unfortunately, there is a short supply of these as evidenced by recent occurrences in the economy and the security of the nation -Res Ipsa Loquitur.
The depreciation of the value of the Naira, extreme poverty, skill gap and other challenges too numerous to mention are the holes through which this vessel is taking in water. Although the captain and others are screaming “May day! May day!!”, it is a bizarre and disappointing fact that there are lots of passengers (some crew members inclusive) who can do something and should be doing something to salvage the vessel but are not because as far as they are concerned, they have access to custom made life boats with which they will get to safety should “MV NIGERIA” sink. Life boats/ jackets in their dual citizenship and hard currencies, which they equate to terraces in heaven; hence they are trying to expedite the sinking. News Flash! Things don’t always go as planned. You can plan a picnic but you can’t predict the weather. We are all in this together, no one is really going anywhere plus, we all have something to lose – “Law of General Average”.

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To steer this ship aright, we need all able bodied men to the oars. This vessel is not a modern one, she isn’t digital although we wish she was. Good news is that she can be upgraded and she doesn’t lack able bodied men. The challenge however is that not all of them think or understand that they have vital roles to play in keeping MV NIGERIA afloat. We cannot afford watchers on the sidelines while our fortunes slip away. There are 170 million Passengers on board and counting, certainly overloaded and no doubt with lots of unnecessary luggage. The solution doesn’t lie in the coast guard “the West”, there is little they can do. The most they will do as they have always done is serve us foods we are not allowed to eat and show us the light we cannot see. The key to changing the tide is in the cargo hold- “unity”. There are a couple of things we must do in unison.
First we must be disciplined. We literally need to suppress our frivolous desires. It is described as the use of reason to determine the best course of action regardless of one’s desires. Discipline must be our defining character. Our actions and decisions must be confined to our rules, rules that reflect our history, culture and vision. It is important that we get this right because indiscipline is the root cause of the insanity and chaos we are experiencing. Discipline must be the wind that blows our sail.
Next we need a cultural change. Today, the global perception of Nigeria is that corruption is in her DNA. They may be right to think so considering the scintillating headlines they see; I would rather have them narrow it down to the root cause. The average Nigerian is afraid of “their tomorrow”. Why? It is not guaranteed! We need a cultural shift. Let the fear be for “our tomorrow”. Putting the country first through the policies we make in her best interest and not the interest of the Northern Deck that claim to be “born to rule” or the Western Deck that threatens to reconsider their membership of the Nigerian state over the abduction of their stalwart or the Southern Deck that has not allowed herself to be developed and blames every other deck but herself. Not policies to hunt the enemy of my friend or those that favour the enemy of my enemy. This is imperative because if Nigeria fails, no individual success will be worthwhile. What we need is love, dedication and commitment to the well-being of all Nigerians. When this becomes our culture, the mist before us will clear up and our destination will become more visible and attainable.

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Finally, we must embrace homegrown solutions. I bet only a few have not heard the saying that “what you are looking for in Sokoto is in your shokoto”. Nigeria is endowed with so much material and human resources that are not being harnessed. The pointers suggest that there is a complex or lack of belief or confidence in what her citizens have to offer. When you look at the numbers, there are millions of Nigerians living in abject poverty. 70.8 per cent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day and 92.4 per cent on less than two dollars a day (Human Development Report, 2006). They do not need the luxury that drains the nation’s foreign reserves and puts pressure on the Naira. They need the basic things which are food, clothes, shelter and energy which are all abundant on board MV NIGERIA and of course some respect. We must embrace and promote home grown solutions to the monstrous challenges that we have. Put simply, we must industrialize; at least that is how “they” got to where they are as portrayed by Dr. Vannevar Bush when he said “The scene changes but the aspirations of men of good will persist”. The wealth to be generated and distributed is enormous and like the Jews, we must first circulate it in our system several times over before allowing it to seep out.
Candidly, the sinking can and should be averted but only if we re-calibrate and reconsider our mode of operation. This is the only vessel for which we have authentic tickets. The life boats and jackets that most passengers are hoping on cannot stand the current of the waters of our present word and there is no vacancy in any other vessel; if you doubt me, ask Donald Trump.

BINDING STRINGS: THE BAYELSA STORY.

Every now and then, we hear folktales and read books that aim to pass different life lessons. I recently read a portion of the bible that echoed through my senses and I thought it wise to share. In the book of MARK 3: 25, Jesus said “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Some other version reads: “If a family divides itself into groups which fight each other, that family will fall apart”. This scripture is older than time and has proven to be infallible through generations. That explains why Abraham Lincoln borrowed it on the 16th of June, 1858 during the Republican State Convention in Illinois. His speech addressed slavery which was a major issue at that point in time. Part of his speech reads: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure; permanently half slave or half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved- I do not expect the house to fall- but I expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other……”Unity
Those words have not lost credence in our present world. The importance of unity has never been more obvious; except you just woke up from a ten year coma. There have been a lot of changes and more are around the corner. The 2015 general elections in Nigeria underscored for the first time the role of opposition in Nigerian politics as offices were keenly contested; although their modus operandi is a discourse for another day. On the 5th of December, there will be a climax of something new to a people; the Ijaw people of the south-south. Bayelsa State was more or less a big family, and always a one party state, a fact which underscores their sense of loyalty; but for the first time in her recent history, this situation has changed. Their peaceful co-existence and sense of understanding is hanging by a thread because the current state of affairs is new and navigating these murky waters of opposition can be very tricky and most times leaves casualties in its wake.Life's inbalance.jpg
It is imperative for all stakeholders in the future of the state to sit back and think through the whole essence of the exercise scheduled to hold on Saturday, 5th December, 2015. I have a few ideas and candidly, I wasn’t in a trance when they came to me. This is the real deal; we all seek happiness in life and will go the whole nine yards to guarantee it. The great news is that we can do more than that; we can be happy as a people if we seek peace, pursue our common wealth and guarantee a future for our children’s children that will equip them to compete with their contemporaries anywhere, any day and anytime.
Long before the advent of modern government institutions like the executive, judiciary and legislature, societies lived in peace and harmony with the use of different structures for the best interest of the people. One of such structures that have survived generations is the traditional leadership institutions.
There is a popular African saying that “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. In truth, the grass in Bayelsa State is green and I must concede that elephants are never lacking. Fortunately, they have rarely fought; they have rather grazed as a family. For the first time, the survival of the ranch is not guaranteed because a battle is brewing and unlike George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, this is not the battle of the cowshed between the animals and the owners of the farm even though some would like to see it that way. As the D- day approaches, the gulf between the sides widens and the battle becomes even fiercer. It is difficult to anticipate the long term implications of what is happening, but it is easy to learn and emulate the gains of a conscious and united front as seen in cities and cultures we aspire to surpass.

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In all these, we must never lose sight of who we are. We don’t have to make the mistakes of some classical examples of division littered in the history books. The traditional leaders, fathers, elder statesmen, and “big brothers” of the state need to send the right message to all the players. The message is that we are one family with a common challenge and need which can be overcome and met when we remain united. This is a drama we are going to perform for posterity to watch so let’s write a beautiful script come December 5th, 2015 because truly a house that is divided against itself cannot stand.

OUR COMMON WEALTH

On the 3rd of September, 2015, it was reported by AfrAsia Bank and the New World Wealth that there are about 163,000 millionaires in Africa. Mind you, the currency of reference is the United States Dollar. This got me wondering about the number of African billionaires there are, so I visited my friend- Google who referred me to Wikipedia and Forbes to mention but a few. My enquiry revealed that Africa has twenty nine (29) billionaires, Asia boasts of five hundred and seventy eight (578) out of which two hundred and thirteen (213) are Chinese, Europe scores five hundred and eighty five (585). Central and Southern America  have eighty five (85), while the Oceania countries of Australia and New Zealand both churned out twenty seven (27) respectively. North America leads the pack with five hundred and ninety one (591) out of which five hundred and thirty six (536) are from the United States of America.

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How many billionaires did all these countries  have prior to 1900? One! John Davison Rockefeller who had about 90% monopoly of the American oil and gas business in the late 1800s. Today the Rockefeller name is engraved in the annals of history not because of the billions of dollars owned and controlled by the family but the lives that have been transformed because of the Rockefeller Foundation and most especially the Sherman’s Anti-Trust Act of 1890.
The law is arguably the reason behind the high number of wealthy people in the west. I think I am not the only one who believes that nations who fail are those that do not recognize the law as the common wealth of the people. Commonwealth in its true spirit and character is not the roads and infrastructures but the laws/policies that guarantee it. The law has always been a tool for social engineering, the challenge however is the fact that the product of this engineering has in many African nations not enhanced or improved the quality of life of her people. Generally, the law is supposed to collate the interest of the people and guarantee it because if everyone is to pursue their individual interest, we will be worse off. Therefore, the true function of the law is to serve as a vehicle for the even distribution of wealth as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 1890 and other people oriented policies did in America. Thanks to the objectivity of the American Congress, today there are five hundred and thirty five more billionaires and hundreds of thousands of millionaires creating more opportunities and ensuring that there is an equal/level playing field for her citizens.


The most essential commonwealth of modern civilization is the law. The reason is that an item can only become commonwealth by definition of law. As humans, we all have dreams and aspirations and there is doubtless anyone who doesn’t crave for the finer things of life. To attain them, we must protect the law. Now a number of you might say the laws in place do not reflect your thought or protect your interest. That is quite true. Whose fault is it? Yours! I will like to ask a few questions to drive home my point so please be patient with me. How many bills under consideration by the House of Assembly do you know? The few you do, can you relate with the rationale behind them? Okay, since judicial precedent is also a source of law, how many ratio decidendi of the judgements delivered by the judiciary are you conversant with and concur? Well, I am not just asking.
It is without doubt very important to focus on the quality of the law as well as its administration as our commonwealth than vain things. I say this because reading the news and recent occurrences in my immediate environment shows that people think our commonwealth is oil. Through the years, it has been resounded that one of our major challenges as a people is sustainability and several antidotes have been prescribed to put an end to the embarrassment without success despite the quality of human resource at our disposal. At any point in time you have the power to make law and go on to do so because of your projected short term gains, note however that disaster looms because on the long run, the law you manipulated will wait for you somewhere in the future to hurt you in the most devastating way. It is imperative for us to adopt the fourth habit as outlined by Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by “Thinking Win-Win” whenever we have to enact laws.

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From all indications ranging from weak institutions to corrupt officials to several other ills bedeviling us as a people, the way forward to attaining a sustainable system is and has always been on the map. The disappointing truth is that we were traveling without a compass. Now we do, and that compass is simply making the law the essence of our commonwealth. The essence of this discourse is to draw our attention to the fact that nothing stays the same forever. There are only three constants in life as identified by Covey and they are: change, choices and principles. If we are going to climb the ladder of progress as a people, then we must take seriously our choices and principles; we must truly seek change and be ready to allow the law function in its true character. Remember that “the society is the product of the quality of people and the effectiveness of the legal system.

AFRICAN STRIDES

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So much has been said about the wealth of the African continent which has not been harnessed due to lack of human capital and corruption. This is a reality that has got a number of us thinking ourselves into knots. In life, there are always two extremes. It is either you are here or there, it’s either you know something or you don’t; you are either up or down, good or bad; and most of all, you will either be remembered or forgotten. The coin will never have a third side. Sometimes, it can be confusing where we really stand but when the sun sets, it all becomes clear. Over the years, quietly, consciously and cautiously, the African continent has been playing a crucial role in maintaining the world order and posterity has no choice but to remember. Continue reading “AFRICAN STRIDES”

From Strong Men to Strong Institutions: An Assessment of Africa’s Transition Towards More Political Contestability by Vera Songwe

Article by Vera Songwe.

As President Obama said during his recent address at the African Union, “There’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving. But the law is the law, and no person is above the law, not even the president.”

This sentence, uttered during his speech to the African Union last month, summarizes President Obama’s message to Africa when it comes to the need for strong institutions. Continue reading “From Strong Men to Strong Institutions: An Assessment of Africa’s Transition Towards More Political Contestability by Vera Songwe”

“WE” and “THEM”

dilemmaLanguage as a vehicle of communication for a given culture is by its nature unique. It however has certain universal expressions that without doubt are the root causes of the challenges of our world today. I am talking about “We” and “Them”, words that highlight class; the classic reason for virtually all clashes. What we create is a class division along religious, ethnic, social, economic and political lines. Continue reading ““WE” and “THEM””

The Bigger Picture

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On Sunday, the 28th day of June, 2015 we were awakened to the sad news that sunk our hearts in unimaginable depths. I am talking about the Taiwan Formosa water park disaster where partying youth sustained varying degrees of burn. It was a terrible event and our hearts go out to all the victims and the people of New Taipei. The immediate reaction of the Premier of Taiwan is quite commendable, he identified the root cause of the disaster and put it to bed by banning all public events related to the use of colour powder in Taiwan. Continue reading “The Bigger Picture”

Vacancy In Global Leadership: Extinction Of The Extraordinary Breed

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It is reported that world population is well over 6 Billion and rising. As passengers of MV.  Earth, the harsh reality is that the pace of this vessel is constantly reducing due to our diversity and unnecessary luggage on every deck. The Middle East has her challenge, so does Africa, the Eurozone, the Americas; nowhere is exempted. We are apparently sinking, but the question is how much time do we have before we find ourselves on the ocean bed? How fast can we dry dock? Continue reading “Vacancy In Global Leadership: Extinction Of The Extraordinary Breed”

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