“The business of business is not Politics” – Governor Dickson’s sour salvo in Kigali

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By Nengi Whyte

Management aficionado Peter Drucker declares that management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. The leadership of Bayelsa State and indeed all oil producing communities would do well to take heed of this time tested maxim.

At a recently concluded forum to debate the economic future of African economies, which took place in Kigali, Rwanda, late March 2019, organized by Jeune Afrique Media Group and Rainbow Unlimited, in partnership with IFC, the AFRICA CEO FORUM has established itself as the most important meeting of the African private sector. The event brings together business leaders, CEOs, investors and political leaders from more than 60 countries.

After a record attendance of more than 1,500 participants for the 2018 edition, including the Presidents of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Zimbabwe, the continent’s major decision-makers met once again, this time in a period of global uncertainty and with the debut of the highly decorated legal luminary, former law maker and executive governor of Bayelsa, Henry Seriake Dickson . A staggering 1800 delegates from 70 countries – 145 Journalist, 800 CEOs, made this confab.

At a time when the UK is undergoing Brexit, increased competition between the US and China over Africa, and with the globalized world economy under threat by the dual forces of nationalism and technology, Africa is still uncertain about its own integration. With the historic signing in Kigali of the Continental Free Trade Zone, Africa can now seriously work towards better integrated markets, increasing intra-African trade, becoming visible in international markets, and gaining a presence within global decision- making bodies. But this will not happen without the voice of Africa’s private/public sector being heard and its vision being shared.

In this context, it was disappointing to have Governor Dickson play down a golden opportunity to declare Bayelsa State Africa’s premier destination for investment. Sadly, the state’s chief executive succumbed to the ignoble vice and penchant of African politicians to use state apparatus and power at civil forums to castrate perceived political enemies. In a leading interview , given by the sidelines of this event to the Africa Report (published by event organizers Jeune Afrique group), Honourable Dickson alluded to the fact that the most significant investors in his mono-economy where socially irresponsible, and ran their asset security , mafia-style.

The same interview was distributed, in-magazine at all hotels accommodating delegates to the event. At the expense of selling Bayelsa State short, Governor Dickson failed to declare to investors, and indeed the Pan African investment community, reforms his government had put in place to secure investor’s wealth and security, and the sanctity of commercial contracts negotiated in Bayelsa State – evident in a greater ease of doing business. One would think, he wouldn’t fail to invite partners into the state’s much touted educational investments – for which N70billion is declared to have been so far invested (www.seriakedickson.ng).

Surprisingly, missing from this landmark advertorial is the largely incomplete Bayelsa International Airport, touted by the government as arguably Nigeria’s largest runway airport.
To say that Governor Dickson relishes fights – having made a name for himself in the close quarters battle for a second term ticket as governor, upstaging heavy weight Silva Timipre with federal might behind his campaign machinery- is an understatement. He has feuded for years with various local politicians, including the former.

Bottom line

The parallels in Peter Drucker’s famed leadership quote which opens up this article are striking, not necessarily in details but in the larger picture. What Governor Dickson’s unspoken communication conveys to Africa’s marketplaces is not an issue, but a poor way of thinking about public private partnerships and witch-hunting local investors who accidentally have empowered his political foe, Timipre Silva, with oil infrastructure security contracts as he strategizes to come back to Government house come 2020.

Your Excellency, please take note: you cannot kill the proverbial two birds (perceived political enemies and local investors) with one stone (militant editorial advocacy), without killing your own economy and driving away current and would-be investors. Local observers, watch with amazement as an environmental commission – led by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, launches its inquiry to see a new global standard of behavior for the oil industry and to end the destruction of human lives, communities and the environment. Civil Servants in the state opined that the government was just in a last minute hurry to play to the international gallery, while becoming increasingly unpopular locally.

I simply don’t know yet whether Governor Dickson possesses the kind of discipline that he brought to the Federal House of Representatives . One of Honourable Dickson’s legacy contributions to the hallowed lower house was the amendment of the Evidence Act, 2009, the first ever of such amendment since 1954. He is renowned for making critical inputs into the framework for the amendment of the 1999 constitution and Electoral Act. Management trainers say the head with the problem is the head with the solution.

I ask the governor to look no further than his own words at the just concluded confab in Kigali for a solution to the economic crisis in his state; speaking at a panel-discussion session featuring Mr Tonye Cole of Sahara Energy and Mrs. Yewande Sadiku, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, the governor said “Governments, including mine and the private sector – captains of industry need to walk together. The motives are sometimes different. Private sector stands out to make profit – which is good, and we should encourage that. The government is out there for public services and the public good and regulation etc. The two must tango because the end result of all of this is how we have made life more meaningful, how we have expanded the boundaries of prosperity.

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