AIGBOJE AIG-IMOUKHUEDE is the founder and chairman, Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG). In this interview, he speaks on wide ranging issues including how to strengthen the private sector.
There are multiple gaps in many areas. What is the gap between the private and the public sector and how is it relevant?
I think the principal gap lies in the fact that in the private sector there is greater common alignment, given the common perspective on profit. However, in the public sector, it is harder for us to agree on the common perspective. In the private sector, we have a market-oriented approach to resolving challenges, whereas the public sector tends to be rather – let’s use the term – political. It is also more influenced by power when it comes to the way of approaching issues. Who do you think should be most responsible in terms of overcoming this gap – who has more power? Certainly, I have found that the hands are not equal. The government is the one who has more power in this relationship – the constitutional power rests with the government. To have any meaningful impact, the hand of partnership offered by the private sector must be accepted by the public sector. A public official can do good and bad things – for example, prevent business from taking place by just signing a piece of paper. How do we protect the private sector from the government when the latter fails to carry out its responsibilities? That is almost impossible. This was one of the motivations that led me to found the Africa Initiative for Governance. It comes from the frustrating reality that there is no safety net. If you have poor public policy the results are disastrous.
What are the goals of the Africa Initiative for Governance and how can it have an impact for change?
The first thing that I wanted to create was constructive engagement, where the public sector accepts its faults and weaknesses, and welcomes partners who would like to make it perform better. The next thing was to ensure that, at least as far as Africa is concerned, this engagement is not an emotional one. We want a reasoned dialogue based on enlightened thinking and intellectual rigour, which is why we chose partners like the Blavatnik School of Government, where we can subject ideas to research and debate, but also learn from others across the world and how they have approached these issues. If you were to ask what are the indicators by which we would measure whether the Africa Initiative for Governance was successful, we have a few things we look at. Firstly, how many competent and highly skilled men and women can we attract to work for the government? Secondly, as a result of the number of skilled men and women going into government, how has public policy improved in terms of impact on a public service week, with the theme ‘How do I serve?’
Your profile represents an entrepreneur with a commitment to public service. What is your message, how do you serve? First of all, I have to devote a lot of my time. I am still an active entrepreneur so there is significant opportunity cost. The first thing you have to be is truly committed to bringing about change. What drives that change? Those same values I want to see in a public servant – values of selfless service, integrity, and of course the courage to sometimes take on vested interests and face difficult situations. Everything that is required for a good leader in the private sector is also required for a good leader in the public sector. The difference is that the reward is not measured in financial terms but rather in terms of the impact that you are creating in the community. You also have to learn that as a leader in the public sector, you cannot seek the lifestyle of the private sector player; that should not be important to you. You have to desire to make people’s lives better. I do not think though that the definition of selfless service is one where your service is without ambition. No, I believe you should be driven by the need to be appreciated for the contribution you make, it is just that your measure is not profit but lives changed. All around the world, the business sector is viewed with suspicion because of its influence and lobbying.
How do you as the people?
Thirdly, can we change the narrative about public policy?
In Nigeria, has the narrative around the public sector changed from being seen as a disabler of progress to an enabler of progress? Many post-conflict African states are now facing a transitional justice era. How do you ensure the observation of ideals such as integrity and moral values in this challenging era? It is not that these values are absent in African states; it just happens that they are not very present in the lives and character of most of those in leadership positions at this point in time. Some things happened to change concepts of morality in African society. One is military rule and conflict. As we know, dictatorial systems of government can very easily abuse the position of privilege and power. So, many of those values are submerged within society and we must find a way to elevate them, re-establish and institutionalise them. This is not going to happen organically. We have to make deliberate efforts to bring them out, which is why partnerships between civil society, NGOs, academic institutions like the Blavatnik School and platforms like the AIG working with people in government are the key. Since you mentioned the Blavatnik School of Government, we as MPP students have had this year someone from that sector see an opportunity to protect the government from this approach? You know, the concept of impartiality really has its roots in the rule of law.
The key thing for us is to ensure that the rules of the game are followed and people are held accountable to play by the rules. For the referee, which is government, we must also ensure it is held accountable in its role. When those lines are blurred, people get away with a lot of things. However, I am sure most advanced countries would not be ready to swap their current challenges regarding corporate abuse with the challenges we face in African countries. I grew up in Nigeria in the 1970s when so many things were available to us and we took them for granted. I look around today at the life of an ordinary Nigerian, and all those things I took for granted are no longer available. Each time I look back at those people who led our public service then, I have even more respect and admiration for them. I look at my generation and think: are we going to be remembered as one that provided such poor leadership and destroyed the hope for succeeding generations? I don’t want to be remembered in that way at all. I have a strong and abiding desire to create a legacy where at worst, Nigeria and Africa return in relative terms to the way they used to be in my time. At best, I wish to create a Nigeria and Africa where there is no difference from the life you live in advanced countries.
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