Book Review: The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria

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Biafra and the Nigerian Civil War are perhaps the most fascinating subjects in Nigeria’s history – a fact that is evidenced by the unprecedented number of literary works dedicated to them. Having read most of the accounts of this tragic chapter in our history, I believe I am in a position to offer a meaningful review of yet another book on the topic.

Chudi Offodile’s The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria is a refreshingly new perspective on the emergence of Biafra, its defeat and the post-war dilemma that continues to haunt Nigeria. Written at a time when Nigeria faces, yet again, a resurgence of the Biafran problem, it examines the relationship between the Biafran challenge and the future of the Nigerian state.

Although Offodile’s book reads like it is written primarily for an audience with Igbo origins, this is a book about Nigeria. It explores the Biafran war and the events that led to it in order to provide sufficient context for the recommendations it makes about resolving the future of Nigeria. In many ways, the book attempts to “Nigerianize” the Biafran struggle by illustrating how the problems of the Igbo people are in fact similar to and interlinked with those of other ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Those who read The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria expecting a rehash of the pro-Igbo post Biafran narrative will be disappointed. This is a book that questions existing narratives about Biafra and perceptions about Igbo politics, particularly those promoted by renowned Igbo intellectuals such as Chinua Achebe and Arthur Nwankwo, while inviting the reader to consider alternative interpretations of factual occurrences.

The author offers an appraisal of Igbo politics and politicians since independence and comes to the conclusion that the problems imposed on the South East by the Nigerian arrangement are compounded by a declining quality of leadership.

By ignoring orthodox positions and subjecting the ideological and political narrative of the people of South Eastern Nigeria to objective analysis, The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria succeeds in reframing the Biafran struggle as one with which other ethnic groups in Nigeria can identify – making it an invaluable contribution to Nigeria’s current sociopolitical discourse.

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Fixing the Budget Mess

Yesterday, I conducted a poll on twitter about the apparent mess which is the 2016 Budget. The results are below.

Poll Results

When the poll concluded today, I decided to discuss the results in a series of tweets which I will reproduce below in form of an article. If you want to read the original tweets you can follow the hashtag #BubusnDailyPoll.

I argue that the PMB approach of hiding in embarassment and deflecting responsibility for the current budget fiasco will amount to a missed opportunity for reform. The best approach will be to own up to the mess. Admit that the approach by previous administrations presented an unanticipated booby trap and order a revamp of budgeting process. This will be in line with

  1. The policy thrust of actually creating a budgeting and planning ministry
  2. The Implementation of the very successful TSA policy

First of all, let me start with what I know. I believe the context of what I know about civil service reforms will help readers understand better the feasibility of the proposals I have iterated below.

  1. The TSA is not a new idea. The Federal Government’s transition to a TSA regime was part of the civil service reforms initiated by the Obasanjo Administration in 2004. The TSA was actually designed to be driven by the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) – a government-wide technology platform for budget control, monitoring and accountability. Subsequent administrations, however, failed to effectively pursue the proposed reforms, stalling its implementation for more than 10 years. One of the problems with the budget (which will get worse if there is an attempt to execute it as is) is that there is a disconnect with the TSA regime. If you institute TSA, you must layer budget control to get the benefits.
  2. Budget control will include accounting for every cost center that is a source of budget expense – staff, assets, programmes etc and using the pre-approved policy rules to govern the allocation of cash. This is what we don’t have. The FG does not have an asset database. It does not have a complete employee directory and the MTEF isn’t codified to plug into the budget M&E framework.
  3. The infrastructure to take the next step already exists. I know this because I designed it, wrote the proposal for it and got it through BPP. It was my first proposal to get the approval of the Federal Executive Council (proud moment for me). The infrastructure was designed to link NIMC with about 32 other key government agencies lik OAGF, Pencom, Immigration, INEC, NCC, EFCC, Police HQ, NPopC, National Planning Commission etc to facilitate e-Government including GIFMIS. So, almost all key offices in Abuja needed to implement the proposals I set forth below are already linked by 96-core optical fiber cables. The network cost N690m to build and was approved by the Yar’Adua FEC in december 2008. Galaxy Backbone got funded to implement in January 2009.
  4. So, PMB just needs to give the instruction and mandate a timeline for compliance and watch magic happen.

In todays , 9 out of 10 respondents feel the budget is too messy to be debated and should be withdrawn. I agree. I believe the constitution allows the executive to spend a percentage of a proposed budget before it is passed into law. This means that the APC Change government still has time to do a better job of planning its expenditure and laying out a more transparent and accountability compliant budget. I think the presentation of the  “as is” goes against the TSA approach. It doesn’t tie budget allocations to policy guidelines in any measurable way. This will be messier when the budget is being executed as Ministry of Budget and Planning will be inundated with approved budget lines they will be forced to deny, especially if approval of cash from TSA is policy driven. As a result, the Ministry of Budget and Planning will become a bottleneck.

The budget controversy presents a huge opportunity for the APC government to reshape the way the FG manages its resources. It can make the case that it is reviving the reforms of government financial management systems and plugging leakages. Therefore, Instead of shirking responsibility. The President should accept blame and order a revamp of budgeting guidelines ASAP.

A proper budget guideline must insist that the budget is designed bottom up. For instance, every employee to be budgeted for in wages must be listed in a Government staff directory. The staff directory will have names, position, ext, email, employee level, wage details, bank details etc of each staff in the budget. Each MDA will own the responsibility of registering its staff on the database and there should be firm deadlines for this. Of course those affected by IPPIS are exempt.

Essentially, this approach will ensure that the wage bill is built “ground up” not by estimate. Everybody to be paid will be registered by their organization. Achieving this is easy. No new biometric registration is necessary. The NIMC database can be used to extract details of each staff to populate the database once their NIN is provided. If a staff is not registered with NIMC, they should go get captured. Every Nigerian should be registered in the NIMC database anyways, so that wouldn’t be an extra step. Given this approach, wages are aggregated using the payroll data of uniquely identifiable and trackable staff into the budget. No round figures.

Any projected growth in staff strength is justified and approved with the anticipated head count added into the budget. Provision for wages become “Actual + Projected” aggregated from ground up. If you do a verification with NIMC you will find that there are staff earning pay from 2 diff MDAs!

To check other recurring expenditure, the Ministry of Budget and Planning must mandate an enumeration of all assets. Particularly the ones that have maintenance provisions in the budget. If they are not in the FG asset database, you cannot budget maintenance for them. For example, We will not maintain a generator we do not know of on the asset database. Asset database will include chairs, tables, dustbins, books etc. Inventory auditing will be a thing. We’ll have rules about amortization so that we will know when they are due for replacement.

Asset tracking will also help protect the FG from fraudulent purchases. If you are buying new equipment, the only proof they have been delivered is if they are a complete entry in the FG asset database. If they are stolen, theft must be reported. If an entry in the asset database is not found during audit, there should be consequences.

This kind of approach will make budget defense more effective. Today, we defend budgets blind. You are defending a budget to buy 5 additional hilux vans, but we don’t know to ask you about the 40 you are supposed to have (asset DB). Any asset related expense should be justified either using existing known assets or an approved asset growth plan.

This takes care of detailed budgeting for wages and assets. Overheads, you can have guidelines and rules that relate projection to wages. These guidelines could be detailed as well, allowing fine control over how much MDAs can budget and spend on overheads.

The rest – capital expenditures will be governed by policy direction and will come with KPIs. So each MDA sees them as a policy-driven project grant. An M&E plan would be required for each policy related item in the budget to go with the procurement documents. The M&E becomes the “handle” that measures progress, determines milestone payments and helps tie the project to the policy goal it is supposed to support. The M&E framework will be the responsibility of the MDA requiring the money and will have to be approved by the Ministry of Budget and Planning before procurement can start.

If we put the previous points together, we can actually automate approval process to access money from the TSA. MDAs get automatic cash backing approvals for:

  1. Staff salaries for staff on approved budgeted list.
  2. Milestone payments for projects where M&E deliverables have been met
  3. Overhead expenses that conform to extant guidelines

Minimum human interference will be required in those cases, essentially ensuring that the TSA system can process 100s of thousands of transactions every week without becoming a bottle neck or relying on fuzziness or approximation.

Exceptions will require exceptional approval.

Any system implemented like this will improve accountability and facilitate executive and parliamentary oversight. Every budget item can be drilled down to its justifiable source – either a documented employee, a known essential asset or a policy. For example a typical budget defense discussion will be about: 1. Why are you growing staff by 20%? 2. Why all the new assets? 3. What is your policy focus and how does your budgeted project support the programme and the overarching policy? 4. How are you measuring results?

Bye bye, Budget Mafia!

It is time to get rid of the PDP excel template for budgeting. Time to start doing PLANNING and BUDGETING together.

If we take this approach, budget execution report will be an automated report we generate from a government wide software. You will have an immediate and instant snapshot of what budget items have been executed and which ones haven’t. etc.

When I joined Galaxy in 2007, I was made to understand that the current budget process was temporary. GIFMIS/TSA was to replace it as a permanent approach to fiscal management in governement. It never did. But now, President Buhari has the opportunity to nail the reforms OBJ failed to complete. He has done TSA, he needs to implement GIFMIS to run it!

This will not be hard at all. It will be chaotic at first, but we are already in chaos. Not doing it now will be an opportunity lost.

We have to introduce exactness into the culture of government. All the fuzziness makes it difficult to fight corruption.

Q&A 

Q: A lot of what you’ve said makes sense but this can’t be implemented for the 2016 budget. Perhaps for 2017.

A: Some of it can. Prepare new spreadsheet formats and send them around. It will be complete in a month. Use the details to create first release of TSA cash backing approval software. For 2016, use access to funds to force compliance. eg. You will not get generator maint for 2016 until that generator is listed on FG Assets DB. So essentially go to , register that generator, get the unique asset ID then come and apply for maintenance cash.

So e.g. Ministry of Budget & Planning can say, June is deadline, before you access TSA to pay your staff for july, you will give us a NIN tagged list of everyone you are paying

Q: How about people that register false assets?

A: Fake registrations can be caught by routine audits. By forcing registration, we have data to prosecute for false declaration. And there will be a count of fraud for each amount that you claim from TSA to service an asset that is fraudulently registered. 🙂

If you list a ghost employee, we will have records that you listed him/her. If NIMC determines that there is a problem with the identity, we will have record of NIMC report of the identity violation – evidence for prosecution.

Q: This here can be achieved very very very quickly, but guess who are the most unlikely to adopt this? The Civil Service.

A: I guess this is why Buhari was elected. To reform the corrupt civil service. This is where the rubber hits the road.

 

 

 

 

Clean the Air AND Plant a Tree!

Despite the fact that the concepts of nature conservation and energy efficiency have appealed to me all my life, I never quite understood or appreciated why environmental activists were so pushy or zealous. Therefore, I generally considered them “loco”.

However, over the past few years, as the natural resources governance advocacy initiative I helped establish at the Yar’Adua Foundation broadened, I began to discover some justification for the apparent desperation. My blog post from last week covers pretty much the reason why activist in Nigeria need to be far more desperate than their counterparts from around the world.

As I mentioned in that blog post, we produced a documentary about the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on Nigeria. The documentary is an advocacy tool to inspire local and international action to address these challenges in Nigeria. We are screening it as part of the COP21 at the activist space – Zone Action Climat – at the Centquatre today and the Africa Pavillion in the Blue Zone of the UNFCCC COP21 venue at Paris Le-Bourget tomorrow.

We arrived Paris a few days in advance of our first screening just to give ourselves enough time to soak in the COP21 experience as well as tie up any loose ends before our big showing. It turned out to be a master stroke. We’ve had to make tedious arrangements for projectors, accreditation etc over the past few days – arrangements we wouldn’t have had the time to make if we didn’t arrive early.

Apart from being tedious, the past few days have been fun as well. For instance…

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And this small protest that encapsulated the call to action for all of us…

 

Exchanging the Future for Loaves of Bread

How Poor Energy Policies mean that Nigerians Have to Destroy the Environment to Make Food

Bread is a Nigerian staple – consumed as an essential part of breakfast in rural and urban homes all across the country. To satisfy the resulting huge demand for bread, there are thousands of bakeries operating in almost every community across Nigeria producing, distributing and selling bread on a daily basis. It is generally a profitable business.

But what is good for business and the stomach might not be necessarily be good for a sustainable future. Traditional bread making, as routine as it appears, poses a huge threat to Nigeria’s environment.

Most of the bread in Nigeria is baked in wood-fired traditional ovens. Before a batch of bread loaves can be baked, these traditional ovens are typically pre-heated for, at least, three hours to create the right temperature in the baking chamber. This process, in addition to creating uncomfortably high ambient temperature and unbearable indoor air pollution within the bakery space itself, consumes a lot of wood. A whole lot of wood!

A recent study in Jigawa State identified over 300 registered bakeries in the state. Each bakery was estimated to consume, on the average, one tree trunk a day as fuel wood. If each bakery did business as usual every day for one year, that’s 108,000 trees going into baking bread alone!

Bakery owners admit it is becoming harder to obtain firewood. They often have to go longer distances in search of firewood or source from suppliers at higher costs. This inefficient consumption of wood exacerbates the twin environmental hazards of deforestation and desertification. Diminishing wood supplies also threatens their source of livelihood, which may eventually leave families and communities desolate.

But wood guzzling bakeries are just a symptom, not the cause of the problem. In fact, the energy challenges of traditional bakeries in Nigeria help highlight the cause – providing one of the best illustrations of how seemingly innocuous activities inevitably contribute to deepening Nigeria’s environmental crisis in the absence of an effective energy policy.

Poor access to modern energy sources all over Nigeria has resulted in a majority of Nigerian homes and small businesses relying heavily on energy from fuel wood. According to the IEA, fuel wood still accounts for up to 80% of Nigeria’s energy consumption. This fact, combined with a large and rapidly growing population translates to an enormous amount of pressure on Nigeria’s forest resources.

As a result, forest and green vegetation have become Nigeria’s most endangered natural resources. According to the World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Nigeria lost almost half of its forest cover in the 20 years between 1990 and 2010 (47.5%). In 2012, Verisk Maplecroft – a global risk analysis market leader – ranked Nigeria as number one among countries hardest hit by deforestation. Today, deforestation in Nigeria continues at an alarming rate – accounting for the loss of forest cover equivalent to four times the size of Lagos State (4,000sq km) annually.

In Northern Nigeria, the rapid advance of the Sahara Desert is perhaps the most devastating impact of Nigeria’s deforestation crisis. Experts say that the Sahara now encroaches southward at a rate of 6 kilometers every year, converting 2,168sq km of previously arable land to hot, dry desert. This desert encroachment has been closely linked with food shortages, insecurity, poverty, climate related migration and communal clashes.

Perhaps, one could argue that longer and more frequent droughts in the north and floods in the south – occasioned by climate change – are the major driving forces for the devastating environmental changes we are witnessing. But human activity sure has played its part. The felling of trees in such quantities for use as firewood destroys our natural defenses against desertification and erosion. It is therefore no surprise that the Federal Ministry of Environment has attributed the acceleration of desert encroachment in the 11 Frontline States in Northern Nigeria to “uncontrolled logging and tree felling”. Given the fact that registered bakeries in Jigawa state alone (one of the 11 Frontline States), consume over 100,000 trees annually, it is hard to argue against this assertion.

Nigeria’s worsening environmental crisis is indeed also an energy problem.

Therefore, in addition to the regulation of tree felling and the planting of trees in desertification frontline states, it is imperative that the Federal and State Governments develop and implement a holistic energy policy that will transition majority of Nigeria’s population to safer, efficient and more sustainable energy use. With a broad spectrum of energy alternatives available for domestic and commercial use – ranging from clean cook stoves, liquefied petroleum gas and renewable energy sources – such a policy would improve the efficiency and effectiveness with which Nigeria utilizes its energy and natural resource. It will also have a high chance of success.

The incentives for implementing a national energy policy are immense. Nigerians would be thankful to use energy in safer, healthier and more affordable ways. Also, if we continue the way we are, we are digging ourselves deeper into a mess that we might not be able to reverse.

In the meantime, when next we buy that loaf of bread, perhaps we should start seeing the price as higher than what we paid for it over the counter. And when we settle down to have it for breakfast, we might just be taking a bite out of our future.

 

 

The Opportunity Costs of Fuel Subsidies

It is unfortunate that the public debate over fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria is, more often than not, confined to the immediate negative impact it would have on the price of goods and services. Although these impacts are real, they fail to communicate the full effects of subsidy.
It was Frédéric Bastiat, a French political economist, who in 1848 posited the principle that any act of economic consequence has not only one, but a series of effects. The first effect is immediate and usually visible. Other effects are invisible, difficult to foresee and emerge only over a period of time. He concluded that confining ourselves to only the visible effects is bad because “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa”. This principle would eventually be known as the important economic concept of opportunity cost.
When we expend a significant amount of public resources on fuel subsidies without actually lifting people out of poverty, we forego the alternative of using those same resources on interventions that will.
The opportunity cost of subsidies become even more apparent when one considers the huge disparities in fuel consumption patterns between rich and poor. When government subsidizes fuel, it makes a crucial assumption that the few who capture the largest share of direct benefits faithfully and equitably pass them on to indirect beneficiaries who are in the majority. It is the impact of this crucial assumption that we often overlook when evaluating the effects of subsidies.
The fact that the percentage of Nigerians living in poverty continues to rise even though our GDP appears to be growing suggests that our economy is not particularly good at passing on benefits from top to bottom. The structural inefficiencies inherent in our economy imply that most of the benefits of economic growth are captured at the top with very little trickling to the bottom. As a result, top-down economic interventions like subsidies have the unseen impact of widening the gap between the rich and poor.
It follows that even in the absence of corruption, the majority of the benefits of fuel subsidies will never reach the Nigerians who need it the most. And even though the little that trickles down makes a huge difference to Nigeria’s poor, this is only so because of the extreme levels of poverty they endure.
It is in light of this that we urge all levels of Government to engage Nigerians transparently about fuel subsidies with a view to collectively deciding how we can better apply the resources currently being expended on subsidies to lift our citizens out of poverty.
We believe that the majority of Nigerians, if engaged honestly by a morally upright Government, will inevitably support the conclusion that fuel subsidies do more harm than good.

Nigeria’s Economic Competitiveness Challenge

The drastic measures needed to defend the Naira following a prolonged period of low oil prices have once again highlighted Nigeria’s poor economic competitiveness. Despite its enormous potential, Nigeria struggles to produce anything worth exporting beyond crude oil and gas. As a result, “Africa’s largest economy” remains deeply vulnerable to external shocks.
Although the CBN is doing its best to respond to the situation, the measures it has introduced cannot and should not be framed as a solution to Nigeria’s economic vulnerability.
It is our lack of economic competitiveness, rather than an “addiction to imports” that best explains why import restrictions are needed to “protect our economy” at this time. A more competitive economy would need no such protection. Its production base would view a weak local currency and low oil prices as favorable conditions – leveraging the relatively lower input costs to increase the competitiveness of its products in markets at home and abroad.
It is little surprise that the World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 127th out of the 144 countries covered by its Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-2015. A breakdown of the assessment of Nigeria by the same report ranked Nigeria 140 out of 144 in the basic requirements for national competitiveness. One of those basic requirements was primary education and health where Nigeria, perhaps most alarmingly, was ranked 143 out of 144 countries (only better than Chad).
It follows that an improvement in our national competitiveness will not arise from simply restricting what the local market can or cannot consume. An improvement will only result from a set of institutions, policies, and factors deliberately combined with the intent to increase the level of our productivity. It is this increased productivity that will lead to prosperity.
We note that Nigeria has made several attempts in the past to improve its economic competitiveness. These efforts have failed because government focused primarily on attracting foreign investment. A more effective approach would have focused on developing local capacity to produce what domestic and export markets are willing to consume. This is the approach we propose.
The election of President Buhari presents an opportunity for Nigeria to reposition itself on a path towards true prosperity. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires the President not only to articulate a bold vision that captures our competitiveness aspirations, but to also show leadership in galvanizing relevant stakeholders around a programme designed to bring the vision to reality.
Such a programme, to succeed, must recognize how gaps in areas like basic education and infrastructure negatively impact on our collective productivity and define strategies to address these gaps.
Without such a holistic approach, any attempts to fix the economy will be papering over the cracks and postponing the evil day.

A CASE FOR INDIGENOUS COACHES

My brother, Ebere, is a guest writer for my blog today. He makes a case for Nigeria to stick to developing and hiring indigenous coaches from now on.

Fans like me realize that coaching is a professional discipline with a vast body of knowledge that has evolved and modernised right along with the game. It is a discipline that is now data driven and in which the role of technology has become more and more pronounced. Its practitioners now earn certifications not just as a means to an end but as a matter of course. For many these days, such certifications are integral to the qualification of a person to coach. In this context, coaching is a matter of serious academic study and a subject of intellectual endeavour to rival other well-regarded disciplines.

Most would readily acknowledge the centrality and importance of good coaching to successful outcomes. In that equation, it is a constant among many variables. Indeed, it is eminently arguable that the right coach can make world beaters out of teams made up of players lacking the individual distinction we readily applaud, admire and even idolize in star players. This value-added dynamic is at the heart and foundation of coaching. It is the quality that underlines the recent (now hopefully past) Egyptian dominance of football at the continental level. It is also, I believe, the single most important factor in our recent continental triumph after close to twenty years of relative mediocrity. Suffice it to say, it would be difficult to overstate the singular, strategic and emphatic importance of the art.
To be sincere, my thinking regarding this subject has not always been this categorical. I was (and still am) by disposition, pragmatic, sensible and well-intentioned. The germ of my opinion then was that, the best man (or woman) for the job, be he or she foreign or indigenous should be given the job, and allowed to do it. In so thinking, I was mindful of the need to develop local coaching talent and give befitting exponents of the same the opportunity to coach our various national teams. However, I did not think of it as an empirical imperative. Like most fans, I was more interested in the players than I was in the coach. I certainly did not subscribe to any philosophy, tenet or theory of coaching. Of course, my passion for our football included a keen interest in the coaches of our national teams and particularly, in their player selections and strategic and tactical bent. Countless rambling arguments have been had by this writer on such matters. However, the pattern of my thinking as regards coaching as a subject matter was situational rather than systematic, ad-hoc and therefore less fulsomely analytic.
Even so, it will not come as a surprise to many that the most successful countries in the game are those that have painstakingly, systematically and methodically developed a continuous and sustainable coaching program and continuum. The assertion is as basic as it is foundational and apt. The obvious extrapolation therefrom, that the strength, depth and systematic application of coaching expertise correlates directly with championship success is hardly arguable and should be a given.
To illustrate further, and here permit a dash of unavoidable and instructive pedantry,please consider. The FIFA World Cup, the ultimate prize of world football has been held and won 19 times between 1930, its first edition and 2010, the last one. Of those 19 times, 18 coaches have successfully guided winning teams to the summit of the game. Those men in historical order are Alberto Horatio Suppici (Uruguay, 1930), Vittorio Pozzo (Italy, 1934 & 1938), Juan Lopez Fontana (Uruguay, 1950), Josef “Sepp” Herberger (West Germany, 1954), VincenteFeola (Brazil, 1958), Aymore Moreira (Brazil, 1962), Alf Ramsey (England, 1966), Mario Zagallo (Brazil, 1970), Helmut Schon (Germany, 1974), Cesar Luis Menotti (Argentina, 1978), Enzo Bearzot (Italy, 1982), Carlos Bilardo (Argentina, 1986), Franz Beckenbauer (Germany, 1990), Carlos Alberto Parriera (Brazil, 1994), AimeJaquet (France, 1998), Luis Felipe Scolari (Brazil, 2002), Marcelo Lippi (Italy, 2006), Vincente del Bosque (Spain, 2010).
Apart from a membership in the elite pantheon of coaching, there is an altogether more striking similarity that all these men share. None of them is a foreigner to the country they coached to world cup glory. All the world cup winning coaches since the inception of the World Cup without exception are indigenous to the countries they coached. To this rule there is no exception. Not even one that proves the rule.The empirical exclusivity of the data-set is absolute and invariable. Having recourse to the foregoing, it would seem logical to assert that teams coached by non-indigenous coaches start from a significant position of disadvantage as far as winning the World Cup is concerned. The odds are certainly long at the very least. A fact this conclusive, ipso facto,ought to inform hiring decisions to a substantial and perhaps definitive degree.
Whereas, the dominant idea undergirding a philosophical preference for indigenous coaches is the building of elite coaching capacity in-country, with an aim to gradually raise collective standards by mere continuous accumulation, application and growth, the imperative asserted by the exclusivity of the data-set above cuts to the chase in a far more direct and confrontational manner. It is about winning, and indigenous coaches rule the roost.It would seem then, that the idea successfully runs the gamut of the long and short terms with a ruthless utilitarian essence.
A bit of further inquiry would reveal one of the strategic pillars that prop up the phenomenon. To wit, of the 19 times the World Cup has been contested, three countries have won it a combined total of 12 times. Brazil with 5 wins, Italy with 4 and Germany with 3 accounts for more than half of the total victories on record. It is on the strength of this historical dominance of the game that these countries are regarded and acclaimed as its super powers and best exponents. Lesser known however, is a singular and particular similarity that the accomplished triad share. None of them have ever employed a foreign coach. Never in the football history of Brazil, Italy or Germany has a foreign coach been hired.
The fact of this is understandably incredible and surprising to those of us reared in the recent past on a diet of Troussiers, Milutinovics, Vogts and Lagerbacks to name a few. And mind you, this represents approximately 306 years combined, when you add up the number of years the three countries have kept coaching records, of indigenous coaching. The successful outcomes of relative stability and continuity in hiring within as it were, going back a hundred years apiece is apparent. It would seem then that the bright idea of foreign coaches has only occurred to those countries further down the success scale and prestige pecking order. One wonders too, if this idea is that old and successful, why some nations are just catching on.
There is however an often overlooked home-grown corollary that is of particular instructive value to this debate. With the victory of the 2013 generation of Golden Eaglets in the United Arab Emirates just a few months ago, Nigeria entered the record books as the nation with the most FIFA Under-17 World Cup triumphs with four wins to date. The first triumph in 1985 was achieved under the guidance of Sebastian Brodrick-Imasuen, the second in 1993 by coach Fanny Amun, the third in 2007 by coach Yemi Tella and the fourth by coach Manu Garba. Arguments about age controversies and age grade level coaching aside, Nigeria’s football history at this level in which she has outperformed every other nation speaks eloquently to the viability of Nigerian coaches on the world stage.
In Stephen Keshi, the reigning African Coach of the Year, the case for indigenous coaches has its best advocate yet. A brief iteration of Keshi’s achievements to date is pertinent. Just over a year after taking over a team that did not qualify for the previous edition of the African Cup of Nations, Keshi’s Super Eagles won the tournament soundly, beating the acknowledged favourites for the title Cote d’Ivoire, enroute. He became the first ever indigenous (Nigerian) coach to win the title, the first Nigerian to win it as both coach and player and only the second African to win as player and coach.
In the World Cup qualifying campaign which ended late last year, Nigeria under Keshi were the only African country and one of very few in the entire world to complete the qualifying series without losing a game. Before the loss to Uruguay in the Confederations Cup last year, Keshi’s team had gone on an 18-game stretch without losing a game, the longest such streak in the history of Nigerian football. Other historic feats such as qualifying Nigeria for its first ever African Nations Championship, the home-based equivalent of the African Cup of Nations, and going on to win bronze in that competition, as well as being the first and only coach to qualify neighbouring Togo for the World Cup in 2006, a tournament Nigeria incidentally failed to qualify for, exist merely to round off his achievements.
The value of Keshi’s contribution to Nigerian football can also be measured in pecuniary terms. In a hasty agreement to coach Nigeria for about five months in early 2010, Coach Lars Lagerback was contracted for the whopping sum of $1.5 million amounting to about $300,000 per month. Keshi by comparison is paid N5 million a month or about $31,000, almost exactly one tenth of what Lars Lagerback was paid. It would take Keshi another 2 years and a total of 4 years all told, to earn as much as Lagerback earned in 5 months! After digesting the mind-boggling disparity and the obscene affinity and gross overvaluation of all things foreign it unequivocally portends, Keshi’s Return on Investment is just massive, perhaps the best in the world. As a matter of accidental fiscal prudence, Keshi is a historic bargain.
However, the real value of Keshi’s appointment is in his deep and abiding patriotism and his protestant work ethic. To the latter assertion, readers should be reminded that in just over two years, Keshi has successfully completed three qualification series and competed in three tournaments. Approaching the matter of patriotism from the periphery, it is a matter of recent widely publicised vintage that Keshi was owed for seven months immediately following his historic African Cup of Nations triumph. It should not be forgotten also that he was owed for four months leading into the same tournament. Only a patriotic commitment to one’s nation can surmount being owed almost a year’s wages cumulatively over a period of two years. So, while being owed for roughly half of the time he has been in charge, Keshi has worked harder, for far less, than any foreign coach Nigeria has ever had. And he has been arguably more successful to boot.
But then, Keshi’s commitment to Nigerian football goes farther than mere remuneration. His determination to source players with international potential from the local league has given the league a rare fillip and boosted the confidence of players therein. Hitherto, the senior national side was the exclusive province of Nigerian’s playing abroad, while many deserving young men plying their trade on these shores were largely ignored. Keshi single-handedly changed that by taking as many as eight locally based players as part of his twenty-three man playing staff to the African Nations Cup in South Africa.
The exploits of players like Sunday Mba who scored Nigeria’s winning goal in the final of that tournament and Godfrey Oboabona who provided a large measure of Nigeria’s defensive mettle is an enduring testament to the skill and graft of locally based players and their ability to deliver big performances in big games if given the opportunity. Such is the enthusiasm and confidence amongst locally based players who now joyfully realize that playing in Nigeria is not a disqualification from representing Nigeria at the senior level and that such opportunities are eminently realizable. Of course, the contribution of this factor to making the local league more viable and attractive should not be taken lightly.
In spite of all this, rumbles of the likely appointment of a foreign coach in the guise of a Technical Advisor and lately in that of a “Technical Assistant” persist. It is to the great credit of the Honourable Minister of Sports who has pronounced categorically on the issue, saying that no Technical Advisor will be appointed except if Keshi requests one. More recently, in comments attributed to Paul Bassey, a Spokesman for the Technical Committee of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Keshi demurred on the offer of a foreign Technical Assistant. Also in the news is the report that the NFF is making plans to extend Keshi’s contract to 2018, beyond the World Cup in Russia, a rare vote of confidence and an acknowledgement of his historic achievements. It might also have something to do with reports that certain African countries are sniffing around in a bid to poach Keshi at the slightest opportunity. Should the mooted contract extension pan out, the NFF would be deserving of some plaudits for strategic and forward thinking.
If his recent antecedents are anything to go by, Coach Stephen Keshi in short order is about to become Nigeria’s most successful coach at the senior level and perhaps ever, and therefore the reflexive need for foreign expertise in our football has been rendered redundant and should never arise again.