Musa Rabiu: Profile in Creative Human Resource Leadership

Inaugural Ceremony NHC

Within three weeks, members of the fifty year old apex regulatory body for human resource management and practice in Nigeria will be electing its 19th President. As I reflected on the candidates for the presidency of Nigeria’s Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, a recent Social Media group conversation I had, came to mind. I countered a post which had a list of Senate Presidents of Nigeria since independence. The post posited that from Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1960 through Chuka Okadigbo in 1999 to Bukola Saraki in 2015 till date, only Saraki was a Muslim. My immediate reflex was what has religion got to do with the Senate Presidency? The gentleman that initiated the post promptly told me to work out the arithmetic and won’t discuss the matter further despite my direct and indirect prompting. As you may suspect the chap in the chat is himself a Muslim.

Because the thought won’t go away from my head and the troublemaker had left me on my own to work ‘the arithmetic’ out, I took the conversation home to the dinner table. My sons were quick to unusually side with me on the matter after I had laid out my case. Or so I thought until this: one of the sons dutifully reminded me that unfortunately Federal Character is still in force in ‘your country’. Once ‘your country’ drops in a conversation, I know I am up for a major ridicule because the issue in discussion makes no sense to them. The other son, in a much lowered and measured tone asked if the norm of having a joint ticket of Muslim and Christian Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates had been abandoned? What about the unwritten gentleman’s agreement within political parties of rotating the presidency between the North and the South? ‘Still in force, Daddy?’ He asked with his head bent over forward towards me. Just when I thought the rebuke and gang-up could not get any worse, the other son quipped in clearly mildly irritated: when your generation and those before you make laws or create norms that turn out to stir trouble, I don’t understand why you simply can’t get rid of it. My generation will have none of those retarded laws, policies or norms. There is something called merit-based appointment, blind of ethnicity or religion, he concluded.

In between the mounting case against Federal Character and its likes, I barely managed to explain to them that the idea of fair representation and creating a sense of belonging for all who share a common space as a country isn’t such a bad idea. I favour it to the extent that it is meant to correct existing deficits, for equity and justice and must be limited in time. Clearly I was on my own on this one. Even at that, these amalgam of views dominated my mind as I thought about the race to be President of the CIPM. There are two candidates. One is a Christian-Yoruba from Oyo State and the other is a Muslim from Kogi State. Of the 18 Presidents till date, all but five are of the Yoruba extraction leaving a significant number of influential people writing the Institute off as ‘that Yoruba Institute’ . No past President was a Muslim, none from neither the Middle Belt nor the Northern Hausa-Fulani extraction. The thoughts, sometimes conflicting with my core beliefs as it were, raged on. In the end, I was left with what I could consider my balanced position, which is that a chance to allow a new face for the CIPM beyond the dominant Yoruba ethnicity so far, should be a welcome one as long as quality is not compromised. This will send a clear signal out there that we are all in it together and begin the prospect of dispelling the notion that this strategically important national body is for only one of the diverse ethnic and religious groups that Nigeria is blessed with.

My so-called balanced position notwithstanding, when I go to bed on the eve of the announcement of the result of the contest, I will sleep soundly. Here is the reason: both candidates in the run for the President are supremely qualified and competent professionals. I know one personally since 2009. He was then the Registrar / CEO of the institute when I resolved to set up Nigeria Human Capital, an outfit that activates an interface between world-class human capital including Nigerians in Diaspora and Nigerian corporates for mutual benefits. He became my natural partner in that journey and my experiences working with him was positive. I do not know his opponent and have not had the privilege of meeting him but some of my well respected and trusted Associates know him and adjudge him to be a potential good President. And I have no reason not to believe that that is the case.

However my support to become the 19th President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) of Nigeria goes to Dr Musa Rabiu who, when elected will coincidentally be the first from the Middle Belt geo political zone and the first Muslim to occupy the position. Those are neither the only nor the main reasons that Musa is the best President the Institute has never had. He is people manager extraordinaire, an astute negotiator and has an uncommon balance of fair-mindedness and a sense of realism. He knows when empathy applies and when to be the hard negotiator. In my dealings with Musa, I found him to be strategic and self-driven in his human resource management dealings. This derives from his over 30 years rich cross-functional and cultural experience impacting organisational success. Passionate to provide leadership in human capital development nationally and globally, Musa in his role as Registrar / Chief Executive Officer facilitated unreservedly the founding of Nigeria Human Capital. He did this as far back as 2009 when the role of the Diaspora in repositioning Nigeria was an unpopular idea. Musa’s foresight of supporting projects and processes that will link the institute with its teeming Diaspora population is one that will deliver unrivalled dividends for Nigeria should he be elected President in April 2019.

Best President CIPM is yet to have

A current Group Chief Human Resources Officer with Dangote Group Nigeria, Dr Musa Rabiu aims to use his time in office as President to strengthen current CIPM governance structure, empower and hold Management & Branch Leadership accountable and promote an all-inclusive process of membership of Committees and other leadership positions. It is my expectation that the CIPM Membership Brand promotion that Musa envisages, will include what I call ‘Diaspora Marketing’. The capacity is available and there is certainly the appetite amongst the Diaspora to engage Nigeria’s apex human resource body in its vision of becoming the foremost people management and organizational development institute in Africa, respected across the world. My time with the Institute while partnering to establish Nigeria Human Capital and association with Musa in different capacities since then has left me with the firm belief that there is no person better suited than him to accomplish the CIPM mission of promoting excellence and regulating the ecosystem for people management to deliver value for sustainable individual and organisational growth and by default the growth of Nigeria.

This endorsement was authored by Collins NWEKE, founder of Nigeria Human Capital in partnership with the CIPM, a past Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe and former Human Resource staff of the United Bank for Africa. He migrated to Belgium in the 90s and currently serves a 3rd term as Green Party Councillor for Social Affairs at Ostend City Council Belgium

Economic House Ostend: evaluated, restructured and now into the future

I recently attended my last meeting as a board member of the Economic House Ostend. During the 2013 – 2019 legislature, it was an honor to serve on behalf of the Greens on the board of directors of this important economic engine of our dear City-on-Sea. After an initial internal analysis as a board member, we quickly came to the conclusion that the priority of the organization should be two-fold: screening then restructuring. Since our proposal was not immediately warmly welcomed by the ruling parties, we used every opportunity to push our point. After a long period of opposition, an audit was allowed and followed by the restructuring in 2015 into an External Independent Agency (EVA).

Admittedly, there is no perfect system, but the restructuring and the new legal form EVA has given us the opportunity to realize and / or adjust the following:

• A responsible and autonomous administration,

• More cooperation with the economic sector and more specifically entrepreneurs, employers’ organizations Voka and Unizo, Social Economy Ostend, Horeca Middenkust, Young Economic Chamber, Syntra West, trade unions and the like,

• More transparency in policy-making, decision-making was guaranteed by the various governing bodies (board of directors and general assembly) within the non-profit organization in which both the private and public sector are represented,

• Faster decision-making as an autonomous entity ensured that market trends and opportunities could be responded to in a timely manner,

• Activities in a professional, commercial environment,

• More opportunities for strategic alliance formation with other actors

At Council Sessions we sometimes made tough interventions about the Economic House, but the principle of eyes on the ball and not on the man was always applied. For us the Economic House remained a hopeful story. My appreciation for CEO Gunther Vanpraet and his team. Gunther worked with great enthusiasm for an entrepreneurial city. I wish his successor as CEO, Thomas Dupon and my successor as board member, Belinda Torres Leclercq, every success in the continuing challenge of reducing unemployment in Ostend

Doorgelicht, herstructureert en nu de toekomst in.

Ik woonde recent mijn laatste vergadering bij als bestuurslid van het Economisch Huis Oostende. Het was een eer om gedurende de legislatuur 2013 – 2019 namens Groen te zetelen in de raad van bestuur van deze belangrijke economische motor van de stad-aan-zee. Na een initiële analyse bij mijn toetrede als bestuurslid, zijn we binnen mijn fractie, snel tot de conclusie gekomen dat de prioriteit van de organisatie tweeledig moeten zijn: herstructurering voorafgaand aan een doorlichting. Gezien ons voorstel niet onmiddellijk warm werd onthaald door de meerderheidspartijen, gebruikten we elke gelegenheid om dit aan te halen. Na lang verzet werd een doorlichting toegestaan en gevolgd door de herstructurering in 2015 tot een Extern Verzelfstandigd Agentschap (EVA).

Toegegeven, een perfect systeem bestaat niet, maar de herstructurering en de nieuwe rechtsvorm EVA heeft ons de mogelijkheid gegeven om de volgende zaken te realiseren en/of bij te sturen:

• Een verantwoordelijk en autonoom bestuur,

• Meer samenwerking met de economische sector en meer bepaald ondernemers, werkgeversorganisaties Voka en Unizo, Sociale Economie Oostende, Horeca Middenkust, Jong Economische Kamer, Syntra West, handelaarsbonden en dergelijke meer,

• Meer transparantie in beleidsmatige besluitvorming werd gegarandeerd door de diverse bestuursorganen (raad van bestuur en algemene vergadering) binnen de vzw waarin zowel de private als publieke sector vertegenwoordigd zijn,

• Een snellere besluitvorming als een verzelfstandigde entiteit zorgde ervoor dat er tijdig kan ingespeeld worden op markttendensen en –opportuniteiten,

• Activiteiten in een professioneel, commerciële omgeving,

• Meer mogelijkheden tot strategische alliantievorming met andere actoren

Langs de gemeenteraad, hielden we soms harde tussenkomsten over het Economisch Huis maar het principe van op de bal en niet op de man spelen werd steeds toegepast. Het was voor ons nog steeds een hoopvol verhaal. Mijn waardering voor CEO Gunther Vanpraet en zijn team. Met veel goesting werkte Gunther voor een ondernemende stad. Ik wens zijn opvolger als CEO, Thomas Dupon én mijn opvolger als bestuurslid, Belinda Torres Leclercq, veel succes toe in de blijvende uitdaging om de werkloosheid in Oostende te doen dalen. 

Institutional Racism as Urgency of our Time

I have found no evidence that a major anti-racism demonstration taking place in Brussels on 24 March was planned within the framework of Black History Month Belgium🇧🇪 #BlackHistoryMonthBelgium. It is therefore safe to call this a coincidence! A beautiful coincidence, a welcome one.

The Antwerp based pressure group HandinHand Against Racism is the tireless organiser of the manifestation. Over the years the organisation has used its actions and activities to place itself in the forefront of fighting for equality and zero-tolerance for discrimination in Belgium. We have come to a point where Government needs to be called out for not taking sufficient actions to banish racism and discrimination in this country. I therefore make bold to condemn the Belgian Government as accomplice in the crime of racism and discrimination.

There are six demands on the table at the 24 March demonstration. A careful examination of these demands confirms that our biggest problem in this country is not racism perpetrated by individuals. The urgency of our time is institutional racism. In other words the racist here is Government. Government should therefore take decisive actions in the following areas:

  1. Concrete steps towards equal access to the labour market, housing market and education
  2. Humane and high-quality refugee reception policies and practices
  3. Liberty for individual use of philosophical signs, which are currently outlawed
  4. Review and reform of Foreigner or Alien Act to achieve absence of meddling by government
  5. Immediate end to ethnic profiling
  6. Implementation of decolonization in museums, curricula, textbooks, libraries, streets and squares, media, …

Now is the moment for Government to establish an ambitious and purposefully coordinated inter-federal action plan against racism.

#BHM #BlackHistoryMonth #Belgium

Thoughts on Christmas & Capitalist Materialism

♦Reflections by a Roman Catholic Priest on the capitalist materialism associated with the celebration of Christmas today

There is increasing concern that materialist capitalism is trying to overshadow and delete Jesus Christ from Christmas celebration. If you have such concern, you are sharing the opinion of Pope Francis, and many other Christians, including myself. Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas and we should make sure we place him back in the middle of Christmas. We, and our families, should ensure that all the mad rush for shopping, gifts, cooking, welcoming/visiting guests, do not overshadow Jesus Christ, the essence and reason for Christmas. Sometimes I wonder, if I were Jesus Christ, how I would feel to know that on the celebration of my birthday, people prefer to spend time on the shopping and food associated with my birthday, and totally, totally forgot about me.

From a purely etymological analysis (analysis of the words Christmas and capitalism’s origin), Christmas predates capitalism. So, capitalism cannot have created Christmas. In English, the word Christmas (Old English Cristemessa which meant Christ’s Mass, Christ’s festival or Christmas Day) was first used around 1100 (See The Harnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology; The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary). And the word Capitalism was first used in 1854 (See The Harnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology; The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary). So Christmas, as a word and concept in English, had been used for over 700 years before the word (and concept???) of capitalism emerged. Thus, capitalism cannot have created Christmas; Christmas by far predates capitalism as a concept.

There are christian denominations that do not celebrate Christmas. Their reason is that December 25 was not the date Jesus was actually born. Some others argue that it is actually a pagan feast. For lack of time, I will deal with the first.

Yes, we don’t know the exact date Jesus Christ was born; we can guess based on historical data. But, we know that Jesus Christ was born; today, Christians as well as the best secular historical scholars attest to the historical existence of Jesus Christ. As Christians, that is a part of the fact that Christmas Day celebrates. That Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the World, was born!

We too have parents, uncles and aunts who don’t know the day they were born, but we join them in celebrating whatever date they chose as their day of birth. Since we are all aware they were born someday, we have no problem celebrating the day they chose. So, they chose a date, and we respect and celebrate that date as their birth days. They have that date in their documents (passports, civil service documents, etc); the government and even the international community respects that date. I see no problem at all with chosing a date for Jesus Christ. Remember, the choice of December 25th predates the protestant reformation.

By the way, we Africans were the first to celebrate the birth of Christ! In 200 AD (that is about 1800 years ago) in Egypt, among the Egyptian Christians, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth began. This was far before the existence of Europe as we know it, and even the “discovery” of America by Columbus (Europeans and Americans are the originators and contemporary champion of capitalism in the world)! Even before their existence, Africans were celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, you can blame the celebration of Christmas on Africans!

Thus, rather than stopping the celebration of Christmas, I will encourage us to see that Jesus Christ is at the heart of our Christmas celebration. I just in google “christian ideas to celebrate Christmas”, and I found this and this and this; and there are more! There are so so so many symbols and meanings associated with the Christmas celebration. Let us make effort to research and share those meanings with our children and family. What is the best Christian way to celebrate Christmas? Let us strengthen this celebration by putting Jesus Christ at the center of our Christmas. What does the Christmas tree symbolize? What do the lights and candles mean? What does the Christmas wreath symbolize? Why do we exchange gifts at Christmas (e.g. can’t we understand it in the fact that God first gave us Himself as a gift wrapped in an unexpected package of a vulnerable. defenseless baby. If that be the case, must we buy gifts to share Christ with others? Must we buy gifts to imitate what God did for us in the birth of Christ? God shared what God valued most as a gift. Most times, the best gift we can give others is the best of us, not things, as the Christmas commercials make us believe. Can we go back to that)? Why do we welcome guests or remember the poor (remember that Jesus Christ was born very poor, homeless…requiring gifts from total strangers in his first days on earth. Can we replicate these)? Thanks to technology, we can research these things, or challenge our children to research them from authentic websites and share? When people are confused and need clarification, then reach out to someone more knowledgeable who could help (in my own way, I will be glad to help; in spite of my awareness that I am also learning and have a lot of things I don’t know).

Xmas has been used for Christmas. I was one of those who opposed the use of Xmas (just last year) until someone else helped me understand that Xmas is not actually opposed to Christmas. They are the Same. Christmas is made of two words Christ + Mass. Christ stands for Jesus Christ. Mass stands for Mass as we know it in the Catholic Church. It is a Mass that basically celebrates the birth of Christ. Christmas.

X, over the years, was used to represent Jesus Christ. Why? When you write Christ in Greek (the original language in which the New Testament Bible was written) X is the first letter in the name of Christ (in Greek, it will actually be Christos but written χριστός). Please take some time to read what we call Christogram. When you do, some of the symbols you see in Christianity and especially the Catholic Church will begin to make sense to you. So, Jesus Christ’s name was abbreviated to symbol the first letter, the symbol X (this is very common in early Christian art…contemporary art/graphics/designs are reviving some of these like the use of the symbol of fish for Jesus which people put in their cars). So Xmas is obviously a combination of Christ + Mass. Voila!

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Ugo Nweke, the author is a Roman Catholic Priest currently pursuing a Doctorate in Leadership at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Focus on Governance of States of Nigeria

There are lots to be read into the recent report by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission on the debt profile of various state governments in 2016. According to the Punch of March 20 2018, which reported extensively on the report, the debt profiles of about 18 states exceeded their gross and net revenues by more than 200 per cent.

The paper quoted the FRC as saying that the debt may have increased by 2017 since “there was no effort by the states to clear them”. It also quoted the FRC as saying that the development was contrary to the guidelines of the Debt Management Office on debt sustainability, which recommends that the debt status of each state should not exceed 50 per cent of the statutory revenue in the previous 12 months.

“In the light of the DMO’s guidelines on the Debt Management Framework, specifically, sections 222 to 273 of the Investment and Securities Act, 2007 pertaining to debt sustainability, according to the guidelines, the debt to income ratio of states should not exceed 50 per cent of the statutory revenue for the preceding 12 months,” the FRC was quoted as saying.

Analysis of the FRC report (which was based on the debt profile of the states as of December 31, 2016) showed that most of the states of the federation flouted the regulation as they exceeded their debt to revenue ratio by more than 100 per cent. According to the report, the worst offenders were Lagos (670.42 per cent), Osun (539.25 per cent), Cross River (486.49 per cent), Plateau (342.01 per cent), Oyo (339.56 per cent), Ekiti (339.34 per cent), Ogun (329.47 per cent), Kaduna (297.26 per cent) and Imo (292.82 per cent). Others were Edo (270.8 per cent), Adamawa (261.96 per cent), Delta (259.63 per cent), Bauchi (250.75 per cent), Nasarawa (250.36 per cent), Kogi (221.92 per cent), Enugu (207.49 per cent), Zamfara (204.91 per cent), and Kano (202.61 per cent).

According to the report, the debt to net revenue of the states puts some of the states in even more precarious situation. For instance while the debt to net revenue of Lagos State is a whopping 930.96 per cent that of Cross Rivers State is 940.64 per cent.

The report found that the only states whose debts did not exceed the recommended 50 per cent ratio by more than 100 per cent were Anambra, Borno, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and the Federal Capital Territory.

Several extrapolations could be made from the above set of frightening figures:

One, the amount of revenue accruing to a state has no relationship with its debt profile.  For instance Lagos  State which has the highest debt to gross revenue ratio of 670.42 per cent (and  debt to net revenue of 930.96 per cent),   is one of the highest receivers of  funds from the Federation Account. It has also one of the best internally generated revenue profiles (thanks in part to the location of prime businesses there).

In September 2017 for instance, it received from the Federation Account N8.8bn, compared to say Borno and Anambra which received less than half of what it got from the Federation Account alone during the period and yet stayed within the recommended 50 per cent to revenue ratio. Remarkably none of the top receivers of funds from the Federation Account – Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Kano and Kaduna States – made it in the ‘honours’ list.

In fact the states whose debt did not exceed the recommended 50 per cent ratio by more than 100 per cent according to FRC received the following sums in September 2017 from the Federation Account (I am using a random month and year for which data on what was received by all the states are available): Anambra (N4.3bn), Borno (N4.9bn), Jigawa, (N4.67) Kebbi (N4.26), Sokoto (N4.1bn), Yobe (N4.15bn).

In contrast, the top receivers of funds, which did not make the ‘honours’ list received the following sums during the period: Delta (N14.2), Akwa Ibom (N12.94bn), Rivers (N12.45bn), Kano (N6.8bn) and Kaduna (N5.4bn). In the same vein, Osun, which is the poorest state in the country in terms of sums received from the Federation Account, (it got only N1.6bn during the period) was not listed among the states with the highest debt to gross revenue ratios. One of the conclusions from this would be the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the USA: “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.”

Two,  a survey published in May 2017  by BudGIT, (a civic organisation founded in 2011to simplify the budget and matters of public spending for citizens), found that most states, including some top receivers of funds from the Federation Account and many heavily indebted states, owed workers arrears in salary and pension payments. Among the States which it found were not owing salaries were Anambra, Borno, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Lagos, Plateau, Sokoto and Yobe.

Remarkably while rich Delta State and Bayelsa States owed upwards of six months salaries, Yobe, Kebbi and Anambra which receive less than half of what they get from the Federation Account did not owe any salary arrears.  The above raises the question of whether revenues accruing to states are good indicators of the viability of states. It will seem from the above that the capacity for governance and managing resources may be better indicators of state viability than the quantum of money that flows to states.

Three, while oil money controlled by the federal government has made it the central site of the intra elite struggles for power and privileges, a commensurate attention is not paid at what happens at the state levels. In fact while the country’s democracy is in a transition mode at the federal level, it appears to be suffering from arrested development at the state levels. Just consider these: In Imo state, which was found by BudGIT to owe primary school teachers two months arrears of salary and pensioners 24 months arrears in May 2017, the government strangely found enough resources to build statutes of personalities that caught his fancy, including that of Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa, who is now facing corruption charges in his country. The same Governor gave the ministerial slot for his state to his father-in-law and is now pushing for his son in-law to succeed him.

In Kaduna state, an otherwise smart governor had to pull down a house belonging to his political opponent. In virtually all the States, the Governors behave like monarchs rather than elected executives that are accountable to the electorate.  Is there any State in the country where the State House of Assembly is not a rubber stamp of the Governor? Is it possible for a State Governor to lose a court case in the State’s High Court? Can the party of a state Governor lose Local Government elections in the State? Compared to what is happening at the state level, the federal government seems to be doing well.

Four, what the different ethnic and regional factions of the political class demand from the federal government, they often negate when it comes to their own states. For instance, while we all extol the unwritten power rotation agreement between the Northern and Southern parts of the country, will it be a crime for the politicians to respect the same principle in their states? Will it for instance be a crime for a power rotation arrangement in Benue, Kaduna, Taraba and several other states in the country so that all the key constituents of a State will have a good opportunity of producing the Governor of the State? Several states in the country need restructuring, not just the federal government.

 The hullabaloo over Senators’ N13.5m monthly ‘running cost’

The recent revelation by Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) that each Senator receives the whopping sum of N13.5m as running cost – on top of N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances  –  has led to justified anger in the land. I join in condemnation of bogus payments. But I will like also to put a caveat: several comparisons of what the Senators earn with what their counterparts earn in Europe, USA and elsewhere earn,  miss the context.  The truth is that the electorate in Nigeria (and virtually all parts of Africa) are manifestly different from their European and American counterparts.

For instance while the constituents of a Nigerian Senator expect him or her to attend funerals, naming ceremonies and launchings of all hues and to be among the highest donors in such events, there are no such expectations on their American and European counterparts. Nigerian Senators, like political office holders,  are also expected to become cash cows and to donate handsomely wherever they go and their presence is acknowledged including in churches and mosques.

This is not a justification for any jumbo pay when most Nigerians are just trying to scrape by but to give a sense of proportion to the conversation.

Again, it is important for us to compare like-for-like. So if we are justifiably angry at what Senators take home every month, we must also know how much top members of the executive and the judiciary take home – in consolidated monthly salary and monthly ‘running cost’.

The author is Jideofor ADIBE.  Email: pcjadibe@yahoo.com   and Twitter: @JideoforAdibe. Originally published by Proshare Nigeria on 23 March 2018

 

Meeting growing appetite for Sub-Sahara Africa trade in food, beverages & pharmaceuticals

As a bespoke agribusiness summit in Brussels draws near and attracting an enviable line-up of industry practitioners, the question of the shrinking flow of public financial resources to developing economies is taking centrestage one again. This time around, it is seen more from the perspective of a blessing rather than a curse if you consider that private equity flow to markets in the Sub-Sahara African economy is actually on the rise. Those who have long held that Africa needs trade rather than aid, appear to be winning the debate while the less aggressive business risk takers are suing for caution.

I shall be making the case at the Summit for Blended Finance as one of the few instruments tailor-made for businesses that favour a more prudent finance approach. I shall be introducing the model of blended finance, put simply, as the interface between the significantly decreased development finance and private philantropic funds deployed as seed capital in activating financial flows for activities destined for or emanating from Sub-Sahara Africa. The focus of activities will be the West Flanders Belgium rich food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries including machineries and engineering activities for these industries.

Some of the ready questions that come to mind are: which are these funds, where are they located, what are the criteria for accessing them and how could they be deployed? Placing these and other questions at the core of the discourse, the presentation walks participants through blended Iroko Trade Invest finance opportunities for deal brokerage activities in the Food, Beverage & Pharmaceuticals industries emanating from or destined for Nigeria and other Sub-Sahara African markets in their trade with firms within the Western European market with West Flanders, Belgium as hub.

The speakers line-up, programme and registration for the Summit, which targets only 70 participants are available here

Changing the Nasty Narrative of Europe under Corbyn

When Jeremy Corbyn arrived on the scene as Labour Leader and therefore leader of the official Opposition in Her Majesty’s Government, many could not look beyond his unkempt beards and rather unconventional, quintessential British dressing code. Those of us that had no qualms with someone that looked and dressed differently had more time and open minds listening to his policy contents. I admit that he needed a change of barber, if he had one, and a few smart corporate suits but if he decided he wanted no make-over, I’d still give him a chance because he represents to a large degree the commonsense politics that Europe and Great Britain have lacked for a while. Was this the same as giving him carté blanc?  No! I was mildly concerned about some of his Communist tendencies. Mildly because I knew that it was just a matter of time and reality will force him to a rethink of the few unholy policy positions he nursed. 

Slowly but steadily, Corbyn is admiringly withering the storm, winning the respect of more people to the point that the mental picture of Corbyn as the next British Prime Minister is being painted, day by day, in the eyes of some of his honest detractors. This is even more poignant in the face of the Brexit debates. The Left leaning academic, Professor Mary Kaldor* captured it all recently when she wrote that in twenty years’ time, we will look back on Brexit as a moment of terrifying global irresponsibility. She reminded us of the world we currently live in, which she described as “a world of creeping fascism in Russia, Turkey, China, Trump’s America not to mention the tendencies inside Britain, especially among the hard Brexiteers”

While extolling the beacon for democracy and human rights that the European Union currently represents, people like Kaldor are quick to draw our attention to the dominance a neo-liberal ideology that threatens to undermine the euro-zone and with it the democratic values for which it stands. Developments in Central Europe and the recent elections in Italy of which I am struggling to recover from the rude shock that a fellow European political figure of Nigerian extraction, won a senatorial seat by preaching hate, racial divisions and Italy for Italians. These are a painful reminder of the dangerous possibilities that lie ahead of us, if Europe continues to lack leaders with the pedigree of Jeremy Corbyn.

The fact that there are tendencies for reform inside the European Union gives a ray of hope. Kaldor was kind to humanity when she speculated that if a Corbyn-led Labour Party were to win the next election, there is a unique – indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity – to reform the European Union and this means an opportunity to save Britain, Europe and perhaps the world.

But the British are madly obsessed with the domestic British debate despite all the talk of a global Britain that nobody seems to be discussing or trying to diagnose the frightening scenario of everything going wrong and their role in that scenario. The current nostalgia for Britain’s role in WWII seems to neglect the fact that this was a struggle for democracy, human rights and decency and not just about nationalism. “If we care about those values now” she postulated “we should be worrying about the future of Europe and the world and how what happens in the rest of the world will affect us”

A recent pamphlet published by Another Europe is Possible makes the argument that instead of fretting about how bad Brexit will be for Britain, there is a need to think about what a Corbyn government inside Europe might mean for the future of the European Union. The pamphlet sets out a reform strategy for the European Union that is realistic to achieve if a Corbyn government were to ally with socialists across Europe. Indications are that such reform strategy would enable Britain to address the big global problems of today, and this in turn may well be a necessary condition for implementing the Corbyn-McDonnell plan of action.

Exit of neo-liberal dogmas through the Kaldor lenses

There are already tentative moves away from dogmatic neo-liberal economic policies, which successive UK governments were at the forefront of pushing. President Macron is talking about reform of the eurozone including a common European budget and there is a possibility that his proposals will be met more warmly by the new Social Democrat Coalition in Germany.

The left-wing Portuguese government has demonstrated how an anti-austerity policy can dramatically improve economic performance. There are proposals to close tax havens for multinational corporations and a proposal for a common consolidated corporate tax, something the UK has strongly opposed in the past.

New proposals to stop undercutting, whereby companies deliberately recruit workers abroad under the conditions in the countries where they are recruited to reduce costs, have just been passed and will mean that it will be no longer possible to use migrant workers as a way of putting downward pressure on wages.

And there are proposals for a tax on financial transactions as a way of controlling financial speculation, again a proposal vetoed by the UK in the past. Yet these proposals may be difficult to implement without at least one major power seriously committed to them. For example, in the wake of Brexit, some countries are engaging in beggar-my-neighbour policies in order to take over the UK position especially in financial services. A Corbyn-led government could be key to making these reforms happen.

The same is true for those areas where EU policy has, in the past, been relatively progressive – digital rights, climate change, and ending global conflicts, for example. Thanks to active protests across Europe, EU policy on digital rights, defending online privacy and the ownership of personal data, has been rather progressive – yet without continued active engagement, along the lines of the Labour Party’s Digital Democracy Manifesto, there is a risk that this might be undermined by anti-terror legislation.

In the case of climate change, there is considerable momentum for far-reaching efforts to keep climate change under 2 % including the ‘Clean Energy Package for All Europeans’ and the ‘EU Roadmap for 100% emission cuts by mid-century. These initiatives would mean a massive transformation of the European economy affecting almost every sector. But, given powerful vested interests in our current carbon based economy, it won’t happen without substantial pressures from parties and movements across Europe.

Humane & managed migration policy

As for ending global conflicts, the new global strategy  presented by Federica Mogherini to the European Council the day after the British referendum, envisages an external security policy aimed at human security (the security of people and the communities in which they live) rather the security of borders. This policy was formerly blocked by the UK who preferred the geo-political approach of NATO and so is now moving ahead. Nevertheless, it requires much stronger political backing and more of the kind of resources in which the UK has a comparative advantage.

Finally, a Corbyn-led government could change the conversation about immigration. Anti-immigration sentiment promoted by unscrupulous politicians, it can be argued, produced the refugee crisis. We live in a world of migration and it is more or less impossible to control. What is more Europe with its aging population needs migrants. Instead of creating a border security complex in which smugglers and border guards are enmeshed in an impossible business that fails to prevent the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean, we need a policy of managed migration as was actually proposed by the European Commission but opposed by member states – one that involves a resettlement policy across the continent. A Corbyn-led government could push for replacing  the current exclusive and dangerous securitised approach with one based on humanitarian and development considerations.

A reform strategy of this kind offers the possibility of transforming the global model of development from the old US-led model based on mass production and the intensive use of oil, to a new green, digital, decentralised and socially just set of arrangements.

This is no longer, if it ever was, something that can be pursued in one country. On the contrary, a post-Brexit Labour government could easily be derailed by predatory action from larger economic blocs and financial markets. And the alarming tendencies for European disintegration, right-wing authoritarianism not to mention criminal and ethnic violence are likely to infect us as well. But if Labour were to pursue a ‘Remain and Reform’ strategy, there is a chance to remake Europe and initiate a process of taming and controlling the dark forces of globalisation.

*Inspired by and based on a pamphlet first published in Open Democracy by Professor Mary Kaldor entitled “What could a Corbyn government inside Europe mean for the future of the European Union?”

The Historian with Uncommon Interpretative Skills

At the lobby of a hotel in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria where I had taken my two teenage sons to, a few years back, for an Anioma art exhibition as part of our occasional family cultural homecoming, laid a copy of a magazine ‘Anioma Essence’. A read, piece by piece of the articles contained in the magazine, was my first encounter with Emeka Esogbue, editor of the magazine.  On further enquiry, the ‘Pen Master’ as he turned out to be known and fondly called, is my Isieke-Umuekea Village kinsman in Igbuzo, a historian and avid writer. A Diaspora friend and kinsman of the Enuani (Anioma) stock based in the United States of America would later do me the pleasure in July 2017 of presenting me a Birthday gift; a book entitled ‘Essentials of Anioma History’ by no other than the Pen Master himself. I have since enlarged my list of prospective books acquisition to enrich my personal library to include other works of the Pen Master, which I had earlier borrowed and read. These are: “A Study of the Origins and Migrations of Anioma Settlements” and “A Short History of Omu”.

Being away from home for more than two decades and half, one begins to suffer what National Geographic Society’s Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis called the “erosion of the ethnosphere.” Along with language, one also begins to lose touch with the arts, crafts, vocational skills, folklore, and customs of his traditional and indigenous peoples. Works such as those by Emeka Esogbue are for me a means of staying connected to my Igbuzo, Anioma heritage. Despite best efforts, the longer you are away from home the more the propensity for the culture, history and heritage to erode you. Ironically for me, my appreciation of the same heritage grows more at the same time. Next to Nna, my father and living encyclopedia of Igbuzo history, I have found the works of Emeka Esogbue immeasurable sources of knowledge of not only our history but also our traditions and customs. I would always dip into his work to arm myself for my numerous discussions and debates with my sons, now in their early twenties, who remain eager to sort out the cultural conflicts that come with been born abroad yet connected deeply to your roots. I would always tell them especially when I appear to be losing the debate to commonsense that you can’t logically disagree with something or an issue that you have no firm grasp of. The works of Emeka Esogbue help me to grasp the essence of the Igbuzo, Anioma history. I disagree with some isolated aspects of the customs but understanding them help me appreciate them. This is to a large extent because in his writings, Emeka Esogbue does not simply chronicle them as most historians before him would do, he interprets them.

Emeka Esogbue deploys a writing style that is refreshing. He is first and foremost a historian. Reading records is therefore his point of departure. But what he does with the records actually marks him out from his peers. He is far from what I refer to as ‘historian of chronicles’ where a report is simply given on what a historian finds and informs the wider world about the past usually arranged in chronological order and providing no further comments or discussions.

I guess what I find most invaluable in the work of Emeka Esogbue is his uncommon realization that historical records that survive for most periods of history are both incomplete and often contradictory. Take the case of the origin of the people of Igbuzo as example. The Pen Master’s position on this important issue is perhaps the most intelligent attempt so far in addressing the gaps and contradictions in the existing accounts. His interpretative skills in addressing historical gaps and contradictions have placed him a notch above his generation of historians and authors.

 

Collins NWEKE

New Era of Nigeria-Belgium Relations

Nigeria and Belgium have a 56 year diplomatic relations. When the new Ambassador of Nigeria to Belgium presents her Letters of Credence to His Majesty, Phillipe I, King of the Belgians today, Wednesday 13 September 2017, the relationship will witness a new era. Ambassador Nonye Udo will make history as the first female Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Kingdom of Belgium. With this, one can say that  Belgium has a lesson to learn from Nigeria on gender equality and gender balance because unless I am mistaken, no woman has ever had the opportunity to be appointed Ambassador of Belgium to Nigeria. For a change, Belgium is therefore welcome to play the catch-up here.

That is on the lighter side. On a more serious note, Ambassador Nonye Udo was not sent by President Muhammadu Buhari to represent his Government in Belgium, with concurrent accreditation to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Mission to the European Union because he is desirous to making history. Far from it. The plain fact is that a seasoned diplomat who knows her onions was appointed on merit into one of the most strategic diplomatic posts for Nigeria. That seasoned diplomat simply happened to be a woman, one whose appointment made history!

That raises the curious question of what is Her Excellency’s story? Who is Nonye Udo? Those in the know of her person and career would, before anything else, describe her as “A fine Foreign Service Officer” Ambassador Nonye Udo is a career diplomat. Having served at different diplomatic posts worldwide including Nigeria’s Mission to the United Nations, was until her appointment the Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Abuja Headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria. The strategic nature of Brussels in the scheme of things in Nigeria’s global aspirations perhaps gives one a sense of why President Buhari made that decision to send unarguably the best to Belgium.

As I reflected on the shape of this new diplomatic era, the challenges that face the Nigeria-Belgium relations, but also the huge opportunities awaiting Nigeria and Belgium to explore, and in a funny way, what readily comes to mind was one of the trickiest media questions I’ve had to answer as Belgian of Nigerian origin. A cheeky journalist,   bent on testing my loyalty or allegiance to these two countries that mean the world to me. This was on the occasion of a football match between Nigeria and Belgium. He went: which country do you favour to win this match – Belgium or Nigeria? I paused and looking him straight in the eyes and without thinking, I responded that the better team will win and whichever it is, it’s a WIN for me all the way. I am not sure, but walking away, the mischief-maker looked disappointed. He appeared not to have gotten the answer he wanted that would create certain kind of news sensation for him.

In a note I sent earlier today to the amiable Ambassador, I opined that beyond confirmation of her formal diplomatic accreditation as Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, I am sure that I will be expressing the sentiments held deep in the hearts of many Nigerians and Belgians with interests in both countries that her historic appointment as first female Ambassador could not have come at a better time. “You must have every reason to feel a great sense of honour to be head of mission in a country with which Nigeria has such a cordial, mutually beneficial, long-standing diplomatic relations dating back to 1961, and with which there are so many opportunities for collaboration across many fields of endeavour including trade and investment, manufacturing, agriculture, machinery, energy or power production and distribution, sports and culture, to name but a few” I said this with confidence because long before Her Excellency assumed office, the Belgium Luxembourg Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, a network of business people and players, Belgians and Nigerians, of which I have the privilege to serve on the Board as Director Business Development and a number of other groups and individuals, have been working to reinforce these ties, and to forge new alliances. My personal goal, which I am sure a significant number of peers share with me, is to set the ball rolling towards taking the Nigeria-Belgium bilateral relations a notch higher, outside the multilateral sphere. Contacts with our Belgian friends and associates do confirm their favourable disposition and readiness to enhance engagement with Nigeria. My immediate constituency of West Flanders boasts of the finest industries in pharmaceutical manufacturing, food and beverage as well as tourism and agriculture, exactly the sectors that Nigeria is impatient to delve into, since the future is no longer oil. When I close my eyes, these are the industries I see and wish to get business people from both sides talking business. The Embassy could be an omissible arranger and facilitator.

I also thought of my Nigerian-Guinean Diaspora friend that works as International Civil Servant at the European Commission who once called me a “dreamer” after listening to one of my TV calls for a better balance between bilateralism and indirect international development model where the civil society organisations and the NGO’s are more involved in development projects with a lessening of Government-to-Government traditional approach. I do hope to take this dream to our new lady in town in the coming months. Who knows, we might set the ball rolling gradually.