Access to Nigerian government is so difficult -Ibrahim Haruna
IBRAHIM OLA HARUNA, a Kogi State born Nigerian-Canadian is a top entrepreneur in the North American country. He was briefly in Nigeria recently and had this encounter with REMI ADEBAYO from his hotel in Abuja, where he speaks on the state of the nation, Nigerians in the diaspora and offers suggestions on the way out of the myriads of challenges confronting the nation, as well as promising the readiness of Nigerians abroad to assist government. Excerpts…
My name is Ibraheem Haruna, I moved to Canada over 12 years ago. While I was in Nigeria, I worked with Associated Information Communications Technology (AICT) a services company to Chevron and other oil and gas companies. Also worked at ECONET Wireless, which is now Airtel and later moved to MTN as a Regional Manager, Transmission Planning before I relocated to Canada.
I’m a Project Management Consultant, a community organizer, the founder and CEO of IBH Consulting Inc (www.ibhconsulting.ca), Envision Learning Solutions Inc. (www.envisionls.com) and Envision Management Solutions Ltd. My company specialize in Project Management, Project Control, Program Management, Project Management Office set up and improvement, Change Management, Stakeholder engagement, Project Controls, Leadership Development, Coaching & Career Mentorship, Entrepreneurship & New Venture Creation, Non Governmental Organization set up and management, Business Analysis, and Process Reengineering. We have extensive expertise in leading and delivering projects and programs in several markets (Government, Education, Healthcare, Telecommunications, Information Technology, NonProfit, Manufacturing, Engineering, Constructions and Financial services/Banks). Our clients include: Government of Ontario, University of Alberta, Rogers, Ericsson, Telus Communications, Loblaw, Bell, and Royal Bank of Canada.
I’ve been involved with the Nigerian Community in Canada in various capacities. Offices I held include board member/Secretary in Nigerian Canadian Association of Edmonton, President of Association of Northern Nigerians in Canada in 2009, Assistant Secretary to NIDO Toronto in 2009. I’m currently a board member in the Nigerian Canadian Association in Toronto, I’m also the secretary of the University of Ilorin Alumni North America Foundation since 2010 and the Chair and President of Association of Nigerian Canadian Professionals & Entrepreneurs (ANCPE), we started that May last year.
Our main objective at ANCPE is to bring all of us together in the diaspora, see how we can provide mentorship, coaching, networking, finding jobs, in all areas and businesses that create and add values to ourselves.
Looking back home, we’re looking at how Nigerian-Canadian professionals can use their expertise to help turn the Nigeria economy around. I’ve been in both shoes- Canada and in Nigeria and the expertise I gained in Nigeria and the one I gained in Canada can help my home country Nigeria. When you work internationally you’re exposed to other cultures, the way of doings things, working and setting standards. Having experienced the standard in North America, Nigerian Canadian professionals have gained a lot of expertise that will help to build the Nigerian economy in various ways.
I’ve been trying to reach out to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to see if I can have One-on-One with him on behalf of ANCPE, to let him know about our activities in the diaspora and how we’re looking forward to contribute to our home country Nigeria. Some of us will be available to come help in various capacities with the government to help build the economy.
You don’t appear to me like someone who moved over to Canadaout of frustration, having worked in top management levels in some of the most coveted sectors of the Nigerian economy. What informed your relocation to Canada?
Why did I leave Nigeria? What made me to relocate was to go outside and gain international exposure, education, more experience and more expertise. There’s this proverb in Yoruba that says “a sheep that runs away does not just run away, it went to gain more power to fight back”. So, a lot of people look at us like we ran away, no. I won’t look at it like we ran away, we didn’t run away from the problems, we went to acquire more knowledge, acquire more capacity, more exposure to be able to come back and help to rebuild Nigeria.
You can see I’m here in Nigeria on a short visit and I’m looking at how I can grow or build my consulting and training businesses and see other areas where I can help. If there’s any capacity that government think I can contribute, why not? I would be ready to come down to help.
You spoke about your willingness to come back to Nigeria to contribute. I know apart from the minister, one person that is much concerned about the welfare and capacity of the Nigerians in the diaspora is Hon. Abike Dabiri, who fortunately is the presidential aide on that matter. Are you in touch with her?
Funny enough, I tried to get her contact but I was unable to get it. Im still looking at how I can reach out to her. So, you can see there’s no easy communication channel between us in the Diaspora and the government officials back home, which is key. We should be able to get email contact easily from government websites like its being done in the developed world, we should be able to send emails and get replies. I will implore all branches of government to make sure they can be reached and check their mails regularly. Imagine a company from North America sending an inquiry about investing in Nigeria, and theres no reply or follow up? Its important for them to be accessible.
Now that you’re willing to come back to Nigeria for investment, which area would interest you to invest your resources?
Like I said earlier, My Company specializes in Management consulting and training in areas of: Project Management, Project Management Office set up and improvement, Change Management, Stakeholder Engagement, Project Controls, Leadership Development, Coaching & Career Mentorship, and Entrepreneurship & New Venture Creation.
We are looking at both government and private sectors. We believe that we can come in and help create and add values to different sectors of government and industries ranging from Telecommunications, Banking to various government ministries helping to create structures and turn companies around.
Nigeria is blessed with a lot of human talent, there are problems because we don’t have jobs, if we’re able to create jobs for our youths, Nigeria will be a better place. An enabling environment and good policies where entrepreneurs can come and establish businesses, will improve the economy.
Talking about your basic reasons for relocating, you mentioned healthcare, education, security and other things. You just came back from Canada now, what has changed?
What has changed? Government has changed hands. In terms of development, things have gone from bad to worse. Lets look at power for instance; power generation is still below 5000 Mega Watts in 2016. How do you want to grow the economy and create jobs with inadequate power supply?
“In 2014, electric utilities and industry in Canada generated 639 Terawatts. Canada is the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world. Hydroelectricity accounts for 59.3 per cent of the countrys electricity supply. Other sources include coal, uranium, natural gas, petroleum and non-hydro renewable sources (Natural Resources of Canada). Over 110,000 MW of electricity generated in Canada for a population of around 32 million.
I want to see the government creating an enabling environment and there should be continuation in government about projects. When you look at amount of money that has been expended over the years on projects, youll think Nigeria would have been where the developed word is today. We need to follow standards, respect ethics and do better.
Transparency is part of the reasons for giving the current government mandate to rule. Now, President Muhammad Buhari will be one year in office in May, do you see the hope for the change promised?
Yes I do see hope.
What are those?
A lot, Nigerian government is doing a lot and the effort they’re making to recover all those looted funds. And also, don’t forget, in a democratic setting, you have the executive and you have the legislative arms of the government. They all have to work to make sure the economy improves; everybody has a responsibility. What are we seeing now? The executive is doing great job but the legislative is on poor performance.
In the constitution, the executive is meant to write the budget, the legislators are to review and approve it and pass it into law. What happened? They went in and changed figures and that has been the practice in the past. You don’t do that in a civilised community or country. The legislative is acting as if they’re untouchable, as if they’re the one controlling the presidency or the executive and that is what they used to do.
They can focus their energy on how to improve on different laws, policies that would help the executive to perform better. The legislative is not doing well. If they have passed the budget the first time they did and they transferred it to the presidency without changing it, are we going to be talking this way now? The budget would have been released, projects would have been going on, and things would have been changing.
I know we depend mostly on government here, which may be wrong, but if the legislative had done their own part, it won’t be this way. People have to be involved; you can tell your lawmakers this is not what we sent you there to do and you can recall them. If any member of the National Assembly fails, you can recall him and say “Guys, that’s not what we sent you to do there.” I want government to be more transparent on how contract are awarded. They need to have open process where everyone can bid for projects and then chose whoevers qualify to implement the projects or meet the requirement. And going beyond to provide project monitoring and control to ensure they meet the standard specified in the contract awarded.
But people will tell you that the lawmakers are not meant to rubber stamp the executive. Don’t forget the budget was even badly padded and it was the legislators that saw it and alerted the President. Why are you blaming them now?
The budget was padded, they went back to the legislators, they reviewed it and sent it back, the executive now reviewed it page to page, corrected it and was now perfect and sent it back to them. They reviewed it and it was okay then passed it into law. They now sent a one-page highlight to the president to sign and the president said “no, I cannot sign, fine, I want to see the whole budget”. And guess what, by the the time the budget got back to him, they have changed it whos to blame, tell me; the presidency or the legislators?
I’m not in government, I can’t apportion blame… (General laughter)
I’m not too. But in a layman’s term… My own personal opinion is that they have wronged the country, they have offended the country and they have to apologise for causing the delay, for not allowing the budget to be signed into law at appropriate time.
But going by the dictates of our constitution, there’s this argument that the president can as well sign the budget and then represent a supplementary proposal if he is not comfortable with the one before him now. You don’t think so?
Supplementary budget is different. If something is missing in the budget from the executive, yes. Like the Calabar -Lagos project that was missing the last time and they submitted a supplementary budget to fix that. But when a senator or the Senate reassigned, moving the budget away, reassigning budget to their constituencies, added something, removing some, that is not allowed. In any civilised country, it is not allowed.
You referred to the government recovering looted funds. How would you rate the anti-corruption agencies in view of the allegations by the opposition that the war is selective and witch-hunting?
My question would be, who were the people in the government for the past 16 years?
Of course, the PDP, whose members now form the major bloc in the APC.
(Dr. Bukola) Saraki is in APC right? Is he not being investigated?
Yes, he is APC member.
Oh okay, he’s a member of the APC. So, Saraki is not opposition, he’s APC. I wont say the anti-corruption agencies efforts at fighting those that have stolen public money that would have been used to change Nigeria better as being targeted as an opposition. Lets Nigeria have Zero tolerance for corruption. If people caught stealing public funds are being punished with something that can teach others lessons, may be Nigeria would be a better country.
There are allegations against people like the former Rivers State Governor, now Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and another petition against the former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, now Minister of Works, Power and Housing. The opposition is just saying, if the EFCC is inviting us, why shield members of the ruling party. Is it not just fair to investigate any one with allegations?
My take about all these cases, I’m not part of government and I’m not going to take any side with any of them but what I’ve been saying is that, you have an agency that has the ability to do their work and I’ve heard a lot of time the president said he’s not interfering with them, they have the power to do their work. The executive is not supposed to interfere with EFCC, CCT or any other agencies and they have said they’re not interfering which is right. In a country like this, there would be hearsay, there would be allegations.
Don’t forget, corruption always fight back. People who are really involved, who have skeleton in their cupboards would be sponsoring some news, a lot of propaganda and anything just to make sure they tarnish the government image too. Don’t forget these agencies have always been there but they used to work for those with interests in them, even in the courts. You see what is happening where they would take some injunctions, right. So, in the past, we have situations where some cases would be in the court for 16 years but I heard that things have changed. That’s why you can see the CCT case taking place everyday, you cannot delay anymore. You cannot go to one corner and say let’s stop the power to hear this case. So to me, I think government needs to empower all these agencies.
If we have good judges, good lawyers that are capable of doing their job, if anybody is taken to court, whatever the court says would be obeyed. So, laws have to be obeyed; and I’ve not seen the military or the president forcefully locking somebody up without taking him to court. So, to me, I think they’re doing a good job, it’s a gradual process. In any change process, people would be impacted and that’s whats happening right now. As a country, we’re going through change and after a while there will be changes for the better.
Nigerians abroad have always clamoured to be part of the voting process; they want to have the voting rights in choosing who becomes what in the political setting in Nigeria especially that of the president. How far have you gone about it?
I heard the law is yet to be passed at the National Assembly, but like I said, it’s not rocket science. There are absentee votes, even in Canada, if I’m not going to be available where I’m supposed to vote. Even in the last election, I was not going to be available to vote where I live and I requested for absentee ballot and I sent my vote in 2 weeks before the election. Absentee vote is very easy.
You know the numbers of Nigerians that are out there, the embassies are supposed to know the number of Nigerians abroad, and then you can send your absentee ballots. We have passports, we can write our passport numbers, so, it’s easy to know the number of votes coming in and it can be verified by our passport numbers. So easy! And we can emulate other countries that are doing it. To me, I don’t know why it’s so difficult to pass the law.
With the electronic accreditation reforms introduced by the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, one still wonders why Nigeria has not implemented electronic voting like other advanced countries.
Yes. You can do voting through the Internet in those countries; you can email your ballot. Yes. If you won’t be available in that place, you can. And there is also advance voting. Advance voting happen even a month before voting.
And still part of the real voting…
Yes. You just walk into some advance voting centres, go there and vote. It’s to make life easy for people on the election day so that you don’t get too busy or crazy and if you don’t have the time, the election is still the election day; those who have not voted would vote by showing their identity, like my own, I show my Canadian passport. Right? To show I’m a citizen and they will send me something to show me where I can vote and that will be shown where I want to vote. Once you show that and your passport, that is it.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan recently in one of his comments said that remittance by the Nigerians in the diaspora to the domestic economy is almost second placed to oil accruals.
Laughs…How true is that?
Laughs…even if exaggerated it means it must be very huge in the real sense. Is it the same now?
Well for me, I’m currently in Nigeria, the money I’m spending is not made here in Nigeria, it’s the money I earned in Canada. A lot of people have families here and send money to their families and you know our culture, you have to take care of your parents, your sisters, brothers so, I would not be surprised because Nigerian community is huge. People are also doing projects back home, so people are sending money. Well, if they look at that as important, why are we not important to the building of the economy, why are we not relevant? Why can’t we have access to the government? All of us are supposed to have equal access. If we’re that important, sending money home, helping to build the economy, there should be a credible platform to cater for those of us abroad.
For me, I’m not begging for position, I want to contribute to helping the country, then, why is it so difficult to have access to ministers, why is it so difficult to have access to the presidency? You send an email; you don’t get any reply. I sent email to my Prime Minister and other government officials in Canada I got replies. When I sent email to the presidency in Nigeria and there is no reply. Why is it so difficult, why make life so complicated?
The tough economic situation is not peculiar to Nigeria. Many countries around the world are facing difficult time too. As someone with global exposures, what would you suggest to the President as a way out of this situation?
There are lots of ways to go. In order to build strong economy where we can create jobs, where we can boost and stabilise the economy. First of all, we have to build infrastructures, such as roads, water system, healthcare, sewages, power etc. Power is number one, we have to ensure that every year we’re adding to the power capacity we have right now. We can achieve this through privatisation. Producing enough power to support industries and businesses will help create jobs and boost the economy.
Also, security is another core area. There is need to ensure police are well trained and equipped. Government should build their human capacity; not just the police, the military and all of other security agencies, invest in them, pay them well and make them to be professionals. They will then do effective job and combat crimes.
Nigeria educational system must be improved upon. Things have gone so bad. Change the curriculum to meet up with the standard abroad and open up the system, create an avenue for those willing to contribute to come in and help. Nigeria educational systems need to move towards applied teaching, were producing tons of graduates but they cannot apply their knowledge to be innovative and move the country forward.
These are some of the measures that can help to stimulate the economy and I believe that by the time we put all these in place, safeguarding the investments of people so that they don’t lose their money and they can recoup their investments, the economy would be on the right track.
Why is it difficult for you people abroad to have a unified global voice through visible networks so that your voice could be audible enough for government and policy makers?
Just like Nigeria is complicated, people are also complicated but at the same time, there used to be NIDO, which was created by the (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo regime; like they had NIDO America, NIDO Asia, Africa, right? But NIDO does not represent all Nigerians. There are many problems with those NIDOs, even some parts of Canada, there’s no NIDO there, and that is why an organisation like ours which is the Association of Nigerian-Canada Professional Entrepreneurs (ANCPE) sprang up.
Now, we are also working with some other Nigerian associations, we’ve been able to work together and collaborate on different initiatives. we should be able to have access to the government in Nigeria which is part of our rights. For ANCPE, we have sent letters to many government agencies in Nigeria introducing our organization and were planning our first Diaspora Networking and inaugural symposium. The theme of our event coming up on June 4 in Canada is Diaspora Knowledge Transfer; focusing on topics like infrastructures, healthcare and security.
You’re a Nigerian-Canadian, if you’re faced with the choice of choosing permanently your residency between Nigeria and Canada, which one are you going to take? (General laughter…)
What kind of a question is that… laughing …
(Laughing…) I want to test your loyalty…
Okay, I’m a Nigerian-Canadian, I have both stake in Nigeria and Canada. I will be able to come help build Nigeria but I also have family in Canada too, but I’m loyal to both countries, I’m loyal to Nigeria, I’m also loyal to Canada. But if the government here wants me to come help, if there’s anyway my expertise is needed here, why not? I will be ready to come to Nigeria and use my expertise to help.
What do you miss about Nigeria?
Nigerian culture is very fantastic; we also have a very good weather here. In Canada, we have weather challenges; many times you wear layers to be able to survive. Here we’re blessed with natural weather, so we can do a lot more than in Canada in terms of agriculture. Canada is one of the most developed in term of agriculture and they only have 4 – 5 months of good weather and the food they produce are still largely exported. Canada is the best largest producer of canola oil, corn or maize, wheat, cattle. Everything! So, we can do it, Nigeria can do it, we’re blessed that we can produce all round the year, Canada cannot do that without GreenHouse. We’re blessed abundantly in Nigeria, our problem is human and it can be solved, a new Nigeria can solve it.
Thank you very much for your time.
• This interview held before President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2016 Budget into law. Mr. Ibrahim Haruna has since returned back to his base in Toronto, Canada.