Here an attempt to predict what Tinubu will be telling the world when he speaks later today at the 78th United Nations General Assembly
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
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.
Belgium became my adopted home over 20 years ago. Since the last 9 years when I went into party politics, I have maintained a routine of coming together with friends, Africans and Europeans, on the eve of the National Day, which is 21 July, for a drink and a chat. This routine has slowly graduated to a tradition. I’d normally use the occasion to feel the political pulse of friends and take home some useful hints. How we are faring in the local legislature was always the overarching questions for me as we converge? However the drink and chat this year was different for two reasons. One, our drink was preceded by what the organizers called ‘Wake-Keeping for Greece’. I was invited as Municipal Legislator to deliver a short speech at the gathering meant to show solidarity for Greece on its current economic tribulations. Two, ninety per cent of our conversation centered, not on Belgian national issues, but curiously on Nigeria, my country of birth. In specific terms we talked about ongoing State Visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United States, the same topic that had engaged me and a think-tank of Nigerians over the social media in the last week heightening a few hours before our drinks commenced.
I thought it meant sense to send this postcard to Mr President and people of Nigeria to summarize the preoccupations of people out here about Nigeria. Nearly 48 hours into what is meant to be a 96 hour official visit by President Muhammadu Buhari, there has not been visible international media coverage of a trip sold to Nigerians as ‘historic’. It should have been historic because it is Mr President’s first major state visit since assuming office about 2 months ago. My folks here seem to believe that the visit is indeed historic but for the wrong reasons. A European student of contemporary African history and an avid watcher of Nigeria said he couldn’t immediately recall any previous first State Visit in recent history that appears to lack this much vision and focus. I was at a lost for a response when asked what the strategic intent of the visit was. What is historic about this State Visit?
I attempted a response based on available media briefing from Mr President’s team and indeed in line with popular and reasonable expectations. The economy was meant as one of the major focus of this state visit. Indeed President Buhari is also expected to make public addresses at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC and at the Corporate Council on Africa to discuss international investment and Nigeria’s economy. The question that begs answer is how many members of the robust Nigerian Chambers of Commerce are in the delegation? Which business leaders of note are in the Presidential delegation? One is keen to know if Mr President shares the view that the most critical aspect of Nigeria’s economic concerns at present is economic diversification, away from the monolithic oil revenue. Which experts in economic diversification theory and professionals are in the delegation?
On the political side of things, we were told by the media team of Mr President that U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the U.S. Congressional Committees on Foreign Relations will also receive President Buhari to discuss political ties between the United States and Nigeria. The Congressional Black Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives will meet with members of Nigeria’s delegation as well. One astute Buhari supporter who jokingly said during the election campaign that Nigerians must vote anybody but Goodluck Jonathan felt strongly that it is only normal that for Nigeria to derive the best return on investment for this trip, members of Nigerian Legislature should have been part of the delegation even if there is a face-off between them and Mr President. If I ever get to see Mr President, he told me, I would probably ask him to consider sharing with me the rationale behind the exclusion of National Assembly (NASS) members in his delegation to the U.S. When asked, I had nothing to say except to deny that the President’s actions could have been dictated by bad blood between him, Senate President, House Speaker and other Legislators because of the way they ganged up against his party’s choices for the top positions in the NASS. Mr President, please tell me that I am right!
Closely related is the concern that any deal reached by Mr President with both President Obama and the Congressional leadership would have to be ratified by the same Nigerian Legislators that have been excluded. Characteristic of these Belgian friends out here, is how they can put you on the spot with very uncomfortable questions. And directly too! This one got me struggling: could it be that considering the majority lead of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the upper and lower Houses, an easy ratification by the NASS of any agreement reached by Mr President during this visit with U.S. Congress may be expected? If so, shouldn’t we be concerned that our Legislators would be ratifying an Agreement on a position of weakness and lack of knowledge? How good is this in developing the legislative capacity of Nigerian Legislators? These guys could be polite as well because I believe the question they are not asking, out of politeness, I think is: for how long will Nigeria put up with Legislators who have no clue of what is going on at the floor of their legislative Chambers?
Getting mildly irritated, I told my pals that I am conscious of the fact that this administration came into power on a promise of change. And for heaven’s sake, they have been in power for just 2 months and it’s unfair to expect magic as of yet. In a somber tone, the otherwise loud chap behind me in the bar, bent over, his neck slightly bent and almost whispering reminded me that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece took only a week or so to constitute his cabinet. That aside, he asked if I was willing to swear on the head of my first son (he understood the place of first sons in my culture) that the few appointments so far made and the composition of the delegation to the U.S. were based on meritocracy? Do you now support political patronage, against the gospel you preach to us in the City Council because it’s about Nigeria, he asked, a bit agitated. I retorted that a selection based on who represents a better comparative advantage for the nation is my preference and I have no evidence that the President has done things differently here.
I send this postcard conscious of the fact that Mr President has information that I am not privy to, which may have dictated his plans and actions but I felt a sense of responsibility, maybe obligation, to convey these raw thoughts considering that I am unable to reconcile a few available and obvious facts with the principles of good governance and strategic planning. It should be noted that friends of Nigeria, but particularly its critiques need to gain deeper understanding of the rationale behind the policy path Nigeria chooses to walk so that proffering constructive solutions for the plethora of issues retarding Nigeria’s national growth, could be made easier.
Brussels, Belgium 22 July 2015
Collins Nweke is Municipal Legislator at Ostend City Council Belgium and former Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe
At breakfast on Sunday, 25 January 2015, I made a remark to the effect that it is the big day for the Greeks. My son made a passing response about his distaste for political extremism, be it on the left, or on the right of the political divide. He is 20 years old, a bachelor’s student of Social Work, passively but maybe inevitably interested in politics. Inevitably perhaps because he and his brother couldn’t possibly escape my constant political jabbing and therefore have to deal or contend with me. His comment reminded me of several Brookings Institute analyses that I have been reading in the last several weeks on the Greek elections. Following his comment, my boy and I had quite a chat, with his mum more or less as the perfect umpire. Shortly I shall let you into the outcome of the debate with him but allow me in the time being to let you into the thoughts that preoccupied the guys at Brookings.
I am unsure if this is representative of a broad U.S. perspective, but the key question at Brookings seemed to be whether a radical left victory in Greece will reignite the euro crisis, producing recession in Europe and some level of financial instability and slower growth in the U.S. While they thought this is unlikely, they felt it is a possibility. They played with a number of scenarios but settled for the view that a Syriza (Greek radical left party) victory would be the worst possible outcome from the point of view of the rest of Europe. They added a prediction that there will be considerable turmoil in the months to come, though terrible outcomes will likely be avoided, ultimately. These thoughts and more shaped my mind as I set the Sunday breakfast table, invited my folks, took a place on the table and thought aloud by way of the remark I made that prompted the debate.
I didn’t think that a Student Social Worker would be moved by the economic arguments surrounding Greece. I thought I might just demonstrate my point if I built my case around the wrong economic choices made, misplaced policy decisions taken, among others. These had resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Greece. I illustrated the crisis with two examples: over 40% of young Greek graduates can’t find jobs. Those who were initially under-employed eventually joined the joblessness. The zeal to undertake higher education was very low amongst the teenage Greek sons and daughters. Those who managed to stay in school had to study, not with their reading table alight with electricity but with candles because a serious austerity measure meant that electricity supply became a luxury rather than a necessity. I thought I managed to make the case that the situation at present is exceptional and extraordinary. Mainstream, everyday solution and policies won’t do it. This I argued was the basis of my Sunday prayers that the radical left not only wins, but wins big. I smiled when my boy finally said he was convinced by my arguments.
Now the results are in and my prayers, not the vision I saw in a dream, as some New Age Pastors will claim, have been answered. The radical left took 149 seats, just shy of the 151 they needed for an absolute majority. Within hours, they announced a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a right wing anti-austerity party, giving their government a clear majority. The question is how founded is the fear of the guys at Brookings Institute? Is the radical left victory a threat or opportunity for Greece and for Europe? My friend, Bart Staes, a three-term Member European Parliament, with whom I stood on the list in the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections, had released an unequivocal statement: ‘Syriza victory is an opportunity for robust Greek and European reforms’. I was also keen to know what my friend, an English Sociologist, based in Athens, whom I haven’t had contacts with in a while, thought about the situation in her adopted second home. She revealed that she reluctantly voted for the radical left. Reluctant because populism is not her cup of tea and she is curious to see if they can deliver. She, like many others were sick and tired of the old political ways. She’s reasonably confident about some able people with some experience who have joined the Syriza-led government. They do have the problem of the high expectations raised and pressures from supporters. She concluded that obviously the old system could not go further. She also struck a note between caution and optimism ‘maybe they will play poker very well with the other Europeans and win a large gamble that some politicians realise that the current system is not working for many in the EU especially in the Eurozone.
My English sociologist friend in Athens wasn’t particularly bouncing up and down with joy but I am! I am because like Bart Staes, I see this as a new start for Greece by getting rid of the old school. Rather than the doomsday scenarios that some commentators have been painting, the victory of Syriza provides energy and optimism. Domestically one will hope that this wave of change will be the start of durable and robust reforms and greater social justice in Greece. The incontestable fact of the Greek election result is that the vast majority of Greek citizens want progress, are impatient in their desire for genuine political reform and therefore want to break with an outdated, crippled political system where the oligarchs have basically ran the country aground. Besides dismantling the ugly, capitalist fiscal and economic constructions of the oligarchy, that country has urgent need of fresh political ideas in the area of sustainable economic development. Greece has enormous potential in terms of the generation of sustainable, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and tourism.
I guess that the yardstick with which the radical left success will be measured is their ability to end the current humanitarian crisis in Greece. This will unavoidably go hand-in-hand with renegotiating economic policies with the governments of other Eurozone countries, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and any other external forces whose conditionalities have meant that Greek men, women and children have lost human dignity and are dropping dead bit by bit. This is certainly an Herculean task but not an impossible one. I contested the European parliamentary seat in May 2014 under a strong reformist agenda. Little wonder that rather than calling a halt to the radical change as started on Sunday, 25 January 2015 in Athens, I can only hope that similar wind of electoral revolution also blows into Madrid as well as in Rome. This appears to be the surest way to get the core Eurozone countries to get serious about renegotiating the terms of the EU social and economic policies.
Like I told my son at the Sunday breakfast table as the good people of Greece were going to the polls, the choice is between the far left and the far right. I hope that the established mainstream parties in Europe realise that the failure of Syriza through sabotage or other unholy means, is tantamount to handing victory to the far right. I know it is a dilemma, the prospect is unpleasant but it is also about making a choice. The Greeks made their choice on Sunday. Hopefully Europe will make theirs too because this is about reorganising for a better and fairer Europe.
Collins NWEKE | Green Party Councillor at Ostend City Council Belgium
28 January 2015