Munzali Jibril, president of Nigerian Institute of Management, (NIM) in this interview with OLAJIDE FABAMISE, speaks on corporate governance, the challenges and benefits in Nigeria’s democratic governance.
What informed the choice of the theme of the conference ‘Corporate Governance and Institutional Performance’?
Lack of corporate governance is part of the problem of this country, whether in the private or public sector. When you look at the wrong things, it will be discovered that corporate governance is being flouted. The framers of the constitution in their wisdom created the National Assembly as a check on the enormous powers of the executive but the National Assembly is not performing that function. Most times the members are pursuing their selfish interests. Certain chairmen of committees compete with ministers of the same portfolio. Some of them flout the provisions of Federal Character in employment. There is conflict of interest. Governors embezzle public funds. Government officials should not allow personal interest to interfere with their official responsibilities.
Is corporate governance possible in Nigerian society with very low moral standard?
It is possible. There are examples of Nigerians who have done it successfully. Most of the politicians of First Republic complied with ethics of corporate governance. For example, when Nnmdi Azikiwe was a major shareholder in African Continental Bank and there was a problem, he exited the bank in spite of the fact that he founded the bank. Some of the founding fathers of NIM, like Gabriel Onosede are people of integrity who did not allow their personal interests to influence their official function.
What do you hope to achieve with the conference?
We have speakers like Christopher Kolade, a thorough business manager; Sheik Abadallah, former minister of Agriculture and Nat Ofo, former legal company secretary, Nigerian Breweries and past presidents of Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. They would enlighten participants at the conference on corporate governance rules and how they should be applied. In fact we are nowhere in terms of corporate governance in Nigeria.
How would you rate corporate governance in the last two years of this present administration and how would you say the government of the day has managed the economy?
I believe that at the very top, the president and his deputy are people of high integrity. I also believe that quite a number of the ministers are people of integrity, but I can’t say that for everybody. The selection process of cabinet was not as thorough as it should have been. Quite a number of people appear to be good but when placed in position of authority they turn out to be something else. Overall, it has been good but not perfect. We are having revelations about the previous governments, there could be such instances in this government but it has not come to the surface. What matters is the top, if the top is clean, when there is problem, it will address it. If we adhere to the principle of corporate governance in the public and private sectors, corruption would be minimized. Top managers have enormous powers that some individuals are afraid to challenge them. Managers in both public and private sectors need to follow the principle of corporate governance in their practices.
Are there adequate sanctions against flouting of corporate governance?
They are not adequate. The sanctions are there in the law books but they are not effective. In this country, we all know that if you steal government’s money and you can hire the best SANs (Senior Advocates of Nigeria) who know the system, it will be difficult to convict you. But we can get around all that. We can set up special courts and sanitise and purge the judiciary. The raid by EFCC on judges’ homes, whether it was right or crude process, however exposed certain things. There was a judge that withdrew from a case he was handling simply because the wife of one of the accused visited his (judge’s) wife. This is the caliber of people we need.
What do you think is militating against good corporate governance, and failure to comply with governance?
The system is corrupt, sometimes, if an individual commits traffic offence, the police collects bribe and looks the other way. What they do is to open your car and enter as if it is their car. This is a crazy practice. For instance, with BVN there should not be escape for stealing money but we are not doing much about it.
What is the extent of non-compliance to corporate governance in public and private sectors?
Non-compliance to corporate governance is worse in the private sector. Though there are regulatory agencies but most of the time the things that happen are below the radar. But in government, the regulatory system is stronger. At each level, people are being monitored by those who are superior to them. There are many pockets of fraud in the private sector compared to public sector. Though the volume of money involved in public sector per individual could be more as one person can embezzle so much but given what we have seen in the banks, I believe there is more rate of failure of corporate governance in the private sector in terms of incidences and not on scale. Again, corporate governance means that even if you own a company, you must follow certain due processes to do certain things. But some MDs collect money at will from accountants and use it anyhow. This is against corporate governance.
How can we enthrone corporate governance?
More systemic work is required. There are organizations where the reward system is clearly inadequate, for example, the police where the reward system is inadequate to take care of the welfare.
How can corporate governance help to build strong institutions that can fight corruption?
We are still in the process and that is why we are holding the conference. Our Code of Conduct demands that we put service above self and we recite it and our members are meant to subscribe to the rules of corporate governance. I don’t say that we have achieved much except sensitization. It is a process and I believe it will take long time. Again, corporate governance would assist in the ‘Ease of Doing Business.’ For instance, when a foreigner comes and he goes through many offices to get something done, and each office is a toll gate, this is frustrating. Corporate leads to institutional good performance.
The country has been experiencing challenges in the last two years and the government has been coming up with several policies. What are the major right and wrong policies that the government has made?
I will start with the right policies. For the first time in the history of this country, there was attempt to address social security issues. May be government is starting gradually but what we really like to see is a full-blown welfare system. This should go with efficient and stringent tax system to pay for the welfare. The challenges with rise of crimes are all related to the level of youth unemployment and skills gap in the country. There are millions of people who have no skill to sell and still they must survive. When poor people see flashy cars, they dream for the cars either to get them legally or illegally and this leads to crimes. We need welfare system and youth employment. I am not aware of bad policies but government needs other good policies.