By Etokowo Owoh
Nigerians, by now, ought to be worried about the waste the country’s commanding industrial heights have turned. I mean the spate of failure of government owned and managed businesses in Nigeria? Massive investments in machineries, finance, land, and human systems put into what would have signpost the nation’s industrial revolution.
Take a look at the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) that was meant to open up the nation’s industrial space for the thriving of downstream aluminium segment of the nation’s economy. Reflect on the wonderful gains Nigeria would have made in an all-important sector, the paper industry, had the paper mills at Oku Iboku, Iwopin, Jebba, etc. been alive and running. Examine the losses we have painfully experienced by the failure of the Volkswagen Plant along Badagry expressway, Lagos, the Peugeot Assembly Plant (PAN) in Kaduna, ANAMCO in Enugu, and Steyr Nigeria Limited in Bauchi, and the frustrations brought on investors who relied on these plants and their value chain effects. Imagine the gains we would have made from a thriving Ajaokuta Steel Mill and the Jos Steel Rolling Mill if they remained operational. It would certainly have been the hub for machineries and iron propelled industrial sector for the country. What is the story of our refineries and the humongous fuel import subsidy scandal, our petrochemical plant and the Nigeria fertilizer Company in Rivers State and Kaduna? What colossal wastes!!!
The story is not limited to the Federal Government owned businesses alone. Culprits abound in the States. Looking around Akwa Ibom State for instance, one sees only relics of several businesses established by the State Government – Qua Steel, Sunshine Battery, Peacock Paint industry, Biscuit factory, Quality Ceramics, and many others. The gory story does not end with only government owned companies. Privately owned business establishments suffer the same fate. On the whole, the mortality rate of firms established in Nigeria, whether privately run of under the grip of governments, hovers around 80 percent. It may be lower for multinationals and local conglomerates. This is scandalous. Like everything made by the human hand, not every business is expected to survive; but not at the rate ours are bidding farewell to the owners after celebrating a few birthdays. Many reasons contribute to business failures; some are caught by the passage of time, technology changes and plummeting demand for goods and services overtaken by new (and better) ways of doing things. Some suffer from the hands of incredibly ill managed infrastructure, policy summersaults, high cost of credit and many other diseconomies. But the mortality rate, deliberate closure, should not be as high as is experienced in this great country.
Despite genuine reasons (and human errors) that cause businesses to fail at spacecraft speed, companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell BP, and many other others continue to wax strong despite changing business tides. What is it they are doing right that others do not know? Are there any lessons to learn from them? How come these companies operating in the same hostile socio-economic and political environment survive and thrive?
ExxonMobil for instance, supplies Akwa Ibom State the economic strength it uses for development. The flyovers and opulent skylines that represent housing estates in Uyo, in particular are made so by the sweat of the oil giant, ExxonMobil. The alternate name for 13 percent derivation, the economic oxygen of Akwa Ibom State, is ExxonMobil. The company is able to generate, daily, the crude oil output that ensures the State picks its gargantuan share of revenue from the federation account monthly? The irrefutable continuity and efficiency that characterize the operations of this company, despite national macro-economic discontinuities, arise from the sweat of its workers, the company’s uncompromising ethical practices, discipline and exemplary leadership demonstrated by its top managers. It is the outcome of well thought out Structures, Procedures, and Processes. The company is rigorous in recruitment and training of its staff. It pays good salaries and terminal benefits without fail. It manages its installations by applying the Murphy Law effectively to eliminate, or reduce, down time. Funds do not develop wings and fly, or evaporate, from its accounts. Operational excuses are few and far between. ExxonMobil constantly innovates in response to internal and external exigencies. It is run with all eyes on the future. Such are the characteristics and attitudinal proclivities of sustainable organizations that apply universal management principles, nuanced by local peculiarities.
If ExxonMobil possess these attributes, if such fibre of managers make the organization tick, and thus able to fuel Akwa Ibom treasury, wouldn’t it follow that their managers who make this happen deserve to be given the privilege to replicate such managerial savvy in local governments if they happen to be found? If ExxonMobil finds one of Akwa Ibom’s son (like Udom Inoyo), or daughter, worthy to be entrusted with a responsibility as high as Vice Chairman, would it not look awkward if his people reject him, or her, should he/her indicate interest, even if tangentially, in becoming the governor of the State? When the rumour of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s interest in the State’s Hill Top Manson was rife, some of us evaluated him from the well-known perspective of his knowledge of corporate governance principles, world view, professionalism/financial management competence, and leadership potentials. This is because we know that after politics/electioneering, what follows is administration and management of the economy, the polity and the social system, all of which go to bring balanced leadership. And that where the potential to network these essentials exist, and with the prevalence of morality in the heart of the protagonist (which is a scarce commodity now), the overall socio-economic system will achieve a state of growth and development equilibrium.
Let us NOT make the mistake; what we are looking for is the improvement of the material well-being of the people. This is the sole purpose of governance. The balancing of interest, which is the political content of management in governance, is only to achieve this objective; not to advance, or favour, a particular person or interest.
It is germane to remind us, particularly the younger ones amongst us, that in the not too distant past, Mobil denied us the position of executive leadership on grounds that our people were not trained in ivy league colleges such as Harvard, or Yale, Oxford, etc. Here is a situation where our own home trained – at Universities of Calabar and Lagos – has distinguished himself and rose to an enviable position never before held by an Akwa Ibom indigene. We should be proud that he has opened the gate for locally trained young minds who read in Universities such as Uyo to be trusted. We can encourage others by giving him the honour to bring to bear in our system the superior management quality that ExxonMobil is reputed and give him the mandate to reverse the development trajectory of our dear State. We saw what Obong Victor Attah and Chief Godswill Akpabio, respectively, did in their efforts to change the narrative of the State. We are seeing what Deacon Udom Emmanuel is doing in advancing those visions. It is wisdom not to tread the path of retrogression by missing yet another opportunity to put in place quality leadership that will rise beyond petty quasi ethnic bickering and usher in the kind of continuation that would place us ahead of our peers in the nation.
The issue at stake come 2023 is the advancement of the collective development interest of Akwa Ibom people. One of these interests is solving the unemployment challenges facing the State. This lies with generating the volume of commerce and industrial output that would stimulate much larger volume of transactions and curbing capital flight in the economy, thus creating opportunities for our people. The other is exploiting our enormous resource potentials that lie in locations such as Oron nation, Eket, Ikot Abasi, which maritime and petrochemical potentials are great. It is developing the vast commercial potentials that Ikot Ekpene and Essien Udim are blessed. It is re-examining the vast agricultural resource, and value chain component, prevalent in Abak, Oruk anam, Ukanafun, etc. to maximum advantage. It is building unsurpassed IT infrastructure in the State knowing fully well its employment potential and technological advancement that go with it. It is the structural and functional re-appraisal and re-positioning of our educational system to reflect current world development mood where every level of learning should be able to provide means of livelihood for the people and not over concentration on certificates at the expense of skills. It is getting away from this festooning band of Political Pas and SAs and deploying such great skills to productive work. It is improving on our current grossly inelegant transportation system with the virtual neglect of breathing life into our water ways – creating jetties and linking up our maritime hinterlands to the rest of the State. It is evolving an auto and IT modulated pension system and ending, once and for all the cries of retirees. It is about evolving time tested solutions the myriads of development challenges and human induced suffering that our people daily encounter. It is about a different future for our children.
We should that while the route to evolving turnaround leader that we direly need is politics and politicking, after elections, the blue sky gives way to astute management of the economy to better the lot of the people. We must also admit that all through history, creating the super-rich class over and above income re-distribution system that caters for the poor, the middle class, and the rich in weighted measures is what grows a people. If tomorrow Udom Inoyo signifies interest in seeking office as the governor of Akwa Ibom State, let’s give him a chance (we should even persuade him to come over). He may not be the messiah, but he could indeed make a difference.
*Etokowo Owoh is a Management Consultant, Author and Researcher.