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Fixing Imo: Between Politics and Leadership

By Dr Sam Amadi

As Nigeria prepares for a new beginning after the 2019 elections it is important to consider the affairs of the states. They have been much more remiss in democratic accountability and effective management than the federal government. Whilst Nigeria’s civil society and its international confederates are helping to build the capacity of the federal government for democratic and effective governance, state governments are left to degrade into incompetent and corrupt aristocracies.

There is no better example of such an incompetent and corrupt aristocracy than Imo State.Anyone who has even a passing interest in politics will easily acknowledge that Imo State is witnessing gross mismanagement. The Rochas Okorocha’s administration has turned what was the fastest industrializing state under Sam Mbakwe into both a basket case and the exemplar of ‘leadership as theatre’. To understand how much Imo State has fallen under Governor Okorocha, consider these statistics. In 2011, when Governor Okorocha became Governor, Imo’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) was N5,8bn. In 2017, it was N5.9bn. In 2011, Jigawa recorded IGR of N1.5bn and grew it to N5.1bn in 2017. Enugu, in 2011, posted IGR N7.3bn and grew it to N24bn in 2017.

From these statistics, Jigawa was better governed than Imo State in the period under review. It added over N4bn whilst Imo added only N100mn. Enugu, a comparable state, added more than N14bn in the same period. For 7 years, Rochas could only add a paltry N100m to the revenues of the state. IGR tells the story the quality of leadership in the state. An entrepreneurial administration will generate wealth, especially for a state like Imo with incredible natural resources and boosts the highest literacy rate in Nigeria (98%).That Imo is one of the 12 states listed as bankrupt by the ‘Economics Confidential’ is not surprising. You cannot create wealth when a retarded and highly idiosyncratic urban renewal program is destroying markets and commercial facilities in the state.

The statistics are the same for human capital indicators, especially in education attainment in Imo. Before 2011 Imo states was a leading performer in education in terms of WAEC results. Today, Imo lags most Southeast states in education attainments measured by examination results.The failure of governance in Imo and its concomitant impact on social and economic welfare of Imo people could be a pivot to think about the adverse impact of bad governance at the subnational level and what it means for economic and social development in Nigeria.

As we rush towards new general election in 2019 we need to think through the underlying causes of development failure in states like Imo. As candidates position themselves as solutions to these development maladies we ought to first stop and reflect on what is causing development failure. Are we suffering from wrong choice of policy or failure of leadership recruitment? How do we fix Imo? By changing the chief executive or generally changing the politics and policy environment of governance in Imo?

Oftentimes, the most pressing impulse is to hit the personnel change button without due consideration of what personality failure to curetoreverse leadership failure. The problem with change is that oftentimes it is not properly conceived,and the medicine is often worse than the disease.Imolites now know that Rochas model of ‘leadership as theater and criminality’ is far more insufferable than Ohakim’sslightly deranged leadership.

Governor Okorocha’s notable failure in Imo State has spawned a cottage industry of aspirants scheming to replace him in 2019. It is like a déjà vu. In 2011, the Imo people got pissed with Governor Ikedi Ohakim and his disoriented governance and embraced Rochas Okorocha. In the frenzy of ensuring that Ikedi Ohakim was punished for allegedly assaulting a Catholic Priest, people lost their senses and swept Rochas Okorocha into power without scrutinizing his credential for the job or understanding the political economy of Ikedi Ohakim’s failure. We are back to the past. All forms of conmen with oversized audacity and diminished integrity and competence are all over the map, hoping to ride the crest of anti-Okorocha sentiment to gubernatorial position in Imo.

So,the question is what does Imo really need in 2019: change of politics, change of development policies or just change of personnel? What is the relationship because personnel and policy choices? And how do they relate to development failure? This brings up the enduring controversy in development economics about the relationship between policy and leadership. Is transformative change a result of ‘a strong man’ appearing on the scene or the result of consistent application of the right polices, even by not too significant leadership?

Is it effective leadership or right policy that determines good development outcomes?The East Asian successful economies provide a context for this debate in economic development. In the 1990s the World Bank began to pay attention to the ‘economic miracle’ in the East Asian and started shaping the narrative. First is a concern whether the success attests to the primacy of free market or the necessity of an effective state. The World Bank’s World Development Report (1987) and The East Asian Miracle (1993) tilt the narrative in favor of the ‘Washington Consensus” on the miracle of free market. Robert Wade’s Governing the Market: Economic Development in the East Asian debunks the ‘free market’ myth and restates the role of the state in governing the market to achieve sustainable growth.

The debate also turned on whether we need wise men or smart policies. If you are a fan of Lew Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister who transformed Singapore from a Third to a First World economy, you would likely argue that it is wise, and perhaps, dictatorial leadership, that makes the difference. If you are an admirer of General Park who transformed South Korea in the 1960s, you would argue that it was wise choice of policies that made South Korea,in a burst of energy in less than three decades,move from grossly underdeveloped country (lower in Per Capita Income than Ghana in the 1960s)to the eleventh most prosperous country in the World by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Joe Studwell in his book, How Asia Work: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region (2013), argues that the outstanding economic performance of the East Asia sub-region, compared to the Southeast Asia, is because the former, and not the later, did three things: ‘household farming, export oriented manufacturing and closely controlled finance’. In analyzing the development divergence between successful and unsuccessful East Asian economies, Studwell highlighted the fact of how different leaders made different policy choices. What is interesting in his analysis of the divergence between South Korea and Malaysia is how the biographical antecedents of General Park and Dr Mahathir determined the policy choices and the development trajectory of the two countries.

What emerges is that changing leadership is not as critical as changing the politics that underlines choice of leaders. In his recent book, The Development Dilemma: Security, Prosperity and A Return to History (Princeton, 2017), Harvard’s Robert Bates undertakes a historical survey of the political determination of economic development and argues that “the central issue is thus: how power is used and in particular, whether it is employed to provide security and to underpin prosperity or to imperil and despoil”. The politics of leadership recruitment and the biographical antecedents of those who took over the reinsof power determine the divergence in development outcomes.

Experience in Nigerian politics confirms that it is changing politics, and not just changing leaders, that matter for development. Lagos State seems to be in a virtuous cycle of sustainable development. There was a pivotal moment when a Post-June 12 social movement swept that state. Tinubu, Fashola and Ambode are products of that significantly different politics. Anambra State can count its moment of divergence from the status quo whenDr. Ngige quarreled with his political godfathers. This unscripted political wind aided the triumph of parsimonious and managerial Peter Obi. Obi inaugurated a new politics,slightly different from the intellectually vacuous and administratively inept leadership that prevails in the Southeast. Anambra now has a new founding that continues to define its politics and administration.

Anywhere in the 36 states of Nigeria that we can point to significant positive development outcomes, we can pinpoint a shade of new politics, creating incentives for the emergence of Governors with some technocrat credentials to thereafter deepen the transformative moment through effective leadership.

The implication of this analysis for Imo State is that the present uprising against Governor Rochas could be deceptive. It can distract from a more critical challenge: the need to change the culture of politics as criminality in Imo State. For more than a decade, Imo politics has come under the control of established 419 operatives who have established a culture of audacity, malfeasance and incompetence. It is a conspiratorial class reinforcing its stranglehold at every turn. We can point out when 419 operatives took over. They populate the political platforms in Imo State, presently drawing daggers against each other. No matters who wins the battle, the outcomes remain largely the same.

In 1960s a medical doctor with a development mindset, Dr. Michael Okpara, made Eastern Nigeria the fastest growing economy in the world, leveraging on two of the three recipes that worked for East Asian economies: agrarian reform and export-oriented industrialization. In early 1980s a civil rights lawyer, Sam Mbakwe, made Imo state the fastest industrializingstate in Nigeria, even establishing the first Independent Power Plant, decades before power sector reform in Nigeria.

Whether it is in East Asia, or Eastern Nigeria, or Imo, or Lagos, or Anambra, the lesson is clear: the nature of politics determines the leaders who get to power. And when new politics produces leaders with the biographical antecedents to redefine the use of political power from predation to production, development outcomes change. Changing leaders without changing politics- the culture and character of those who use power- produces largely the same results.

Amadi, former chairman/CEO of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), is an APGA governorship aspirant in Imo state

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