Lessons from the Guttenberg Press

An acknowledged game changer in the history of mankind including the telegraph, Menlo Park, Singer machine, transistors and penicillin is the Guttenberg press. In this age which chastens us  to do less paperwork and save the trees, printed texts were once exclusive and a product of relentless toil. In a typical Catholic Church till the mid-1400s, monasteries labour for years to ink the Bible on rolls of papyrus, locked in the library and only read aloud to the faithful during services. Owning the Bible seemed impossible, limiting the intercourse of knowledge between the Church leadership and its congregants. Such lack of quick access to canticles of Bible was the burden of Martin Luther in 1517 especially in the sale of indulgences, which was already being abused by the appointees of the Pope. In those days, if you committed a sin, you can seek temporal punishment by buying indulgences.

According to Wikipedia:  Professional “pardoners” (quaestores) - who were sent to collect alms for a specific project – practiced the unrestricted sale of indulgences. Many of these quaestores exceeded official Church doctrine, whether in avarice or ignorant zeal, and promised rewards like salvation from eternal damnation in return for money.With the permission of the Church, indulgences also became a way for Catholic rulers to fund expensive projects, such as Crusades and cathedrals, by keeping a significant portion of the money raised from indulgences in their lands. There was a tendency to forge documents declaring that indulgences had been granted. Indulgences grew to extraordinary magnitude, in terms of longevity and breadth of forgiveness.

The abuse of indulenges irritated Martin Luther – a German Priest – and he wanted to end this practice. However, how do you raise a mass movement of people to support  your idea when the means to distribute literature or even references to the Bible were limited? To disrupt Papal order on sale of indulgences, he needed induction of a large class who were ready to send a deafening toll across the Vatican. Jan Hus, the Czech Priest seeking to end indulgences as it were, was burnt at stake in 1415 after unwilling to recant his conviction to the Catholic Church. Such was the fate Martin Luther could suffer with his disruptive attempt to question the sale of indulgences and raise a storm in the church. Bathing in the Zeitgiest, a young man Johannes Gutenberg was already building moveable printing press that churns out printed document and gradually makes them ubiquitous. All Martin Luther needed to do was to print his 95 theses (the statement of his conviction) using Guttenberg Press,  and tack them on the doorpost of Wittenberg chapel. He could have been burnt at stake, suffering the fate of a rebel in the past. In few months that Martin Luther raised his objection to the Church practices, his documents was flying around Europe and the disruption was near. The information was distributed. The effect will be revolutionary. The power of fast-paced distributed flow of information is one that quickens my mind especially  the non-linearity of its outcome. Knowledge has never been at its cheapest and  the Internet enabling it can be counted as our own Guttenberg press of our moment. This distributive medium is the large channel that churns out information and serves as leveler irrespective of time and space. To democratize information via digital tools presents an opportunity that can lead to better outcomes in the society that we operate.

One of the greatest danger democracy is information inequity. People deserve to know more being co-participants but elected rulers ride on their ignorance or play the ethnic card to create fiefdoms. This leads to a scenario of where elected leaders are not seen as custodians of vested powers but as rulers. Such approach makes them think public projects are privileges not their account of stewardship. It makes them cringe once you demand accountability. Completing the feedback loop of budget and public projects is key to my organization (BudgIT) that has worked to improve budget access in Nigeria.

People share photos, videos, writing via the Internet and at BudgIT I also believe we can make budget tracking the basis for social interaction. At BudgIT, we have decided to test that through our application in works called Tracka.  The whole essence is to deepen the conversation about public data and we have Internet as the superhighway already begging for us to effectively use it. Using mobile phones and web, we believe we can aggregate interests and trickle down the narrative to those still not connected to the online space. This is our Guttenberg press  moment, we don’t need a Martin Luther to steer us. We need a tireless minority who are connected and believe they can peer into data and begin conversations for a better society.

2013: The Unfinished Sketch

For he was [waiting expectantly and confidently] looking forward to the city which hasfixed and firm foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God. Hebrews 11:10 AMP

I want my place under the sun but that won’t come in  the camp of the undecided, who sit on the fence of passiveness. One must come to the construction site of life, watch the Master mount the bullet-proof bricks. It was about me peering at His sketch, which gradually unravels the ongoing city I am forever living in. If 2012 was the rise of the euphoria with the awards and recognitions with the effort of BudgIT, 2013 was about focusing on what I thought was the “The Big Thing That Matters”.

The Big Thing. That I can’t do this alone and I will need capable hands to join me is obvious.  These co-workers in the civic minefield ridden with apathy and institutional belligerence will need to be paid asc ovenanted. BudgIT can’t function on empty account balance with deafening echoes nor with piecemeal handed over by the lifelong bosses at Co-Creation Hub. It was the “big deal”. The Cash Nexus. The oxygen of the enterprise. The oxygen, felt but not seen, brought by the Master, to keep us breathing.

In 2013, I stood on a city whose Architect and Builder is God, discovering each day this dazzling fortress is all I ever wanted. I am still gazing at that unfinished city in my overalls, plastic cap, rubber boots and work tools, observing the Master mount the bricks with riveting patterns.  I won’t belong to the camp whose narrative is to shove 2013 away in pit telling it to quicken its rot, I will rather be grateful to live this amazing year that has left me in the awe of God’s perfection of both design and creation.

I have not yet reached that moment of epiphany when the ceiling is broken and one can only mount the ladder backwards. I mean “we”are still rising because “the work of a change-maker is never done”. There are still unfinished battles in the line of my present calling to raise active citizens to make sure public budgets deliver quality and efficient service.

2013 will make one think of Kenya’s shopping mall siege, Boston bombing as athletes raced to finish the line, the transition of Nelson Mandela, the intellectual fisticuffs in the US Congress, the humane spirit of Pope Francis, the uncontrolled leaks of Edward Snowden, the legendary bow of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford and many others that won’t fill this space. If look at the Nigeria – the patchwork of the British about to clock the centenary -, you will see politics in red-hot coal. Politicians, stock of thes ame root, are in a tug of war pulling themselves over to their turf. APC – change – is a living parable of a dog and its vomit. Excess Crude Account spiraled down, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala repented on the recurrent-capital mix, NNPC opaque structure gets iron cast, power sector oligarchs emerge, Stella Oduah can’t ride the 255m BMW in peace, the Oga-the-Top & Go-and –Die comedy shows. As expected in a year, it was spellbinding intrigues and I am happy to live it.

When I look into the rear, what were those secret wishes of mine that can’t fathom in the mesmeric design of my Master? I am exhausted of Indomie girl at dusk waiting for me to pay my toll for another supper. Tired to leave the emptiness of bed to fit myself into the sofa. I relish waking up each other with a mild hit, telling her “Dearie, the sun is up again”.

I mean when I see lovebirds hang together in the midst of somersaulting butterflies, I leap within my spirit, this is the Big Thing that matters. I mean reading Olusola Fasan write “Walking that aisle to meet you (her hubby) was a long awaited dream! And I’ve enjoyed every part of that dream so far”. I mean those who are not in the awe of the new funding round for their startup nor excited by the Donor’s payment that energizes the city. They are happy because they found love and love found them.

Goodbye 2013, your task was well done.

Influence : God

Friend of the Year: Seun Fakuade (a co-worker in the civic space)

New Friend of the Year: Segun Adeniyi (Amazing talent that builds our infographics)

Book of  the Year : King Leopold’s Ghost (an account of the Belgian King inhumane acts)

Facebook Friend of the Year: Olumide Idowu (for tirelessly liking my Facebook posts)

Tweep of the Year: @DoubleEph (His analysis holds me spellbound even with 3,000 word essay)

Person of the Year: Olusegun Dada (Great promise. Great work on the state budgets)

Happiest Moment of the Year: BudgIT’s first major grant by OSIWA

Saddest day of the Year: Things happened for us not to us.

Song of the Year:  Jesus Be The Center – Israel Houghton

 

I have decided to take out the last paragraph of this note. I grossly misrepresented issues which I deeply regret. I am in a relationship with a lady that I love -Dolapo-  and I wish the best of things to come in accordance to God’s will. I met her on June 26th, 2013 and I have taken lifelong lessons on how to be a man, father and husband. Everyday, I find I lack huge skills with out casual and transactional mindset to marriage. God bless her for enduring my missteps. 2013 was not complete without her. I feel a swarm of butterflies around me. 

Dominoes in Pleasant Places

Last year, I stood in front of a massive congress in Helsinki speaking about BudgIT -  the startup that sends a rush to my head and makes the account officer have a “crush”. It wasn’t a moment of epiphany, BudgIT movement was just about to go full blast.  I was exiting the bank to a curious world of budget transparency and I knew it will be life like a loaded gun. The trigger has to be faulty.  Days when I peered at my boss in First Bank before I sneaked that tweet was over.  I will be polluting their stream hoping someone gets a reason government finances is not a tough crossword puzzle. That how government finances work can leave the posh palaces of the analyst to the factory floor of young people who earnestly deserve change.

But change can be swift as I have experienced between the 27th and 28th birthday celebrations of my life. Once a banker, you thought I had money?  I was broke mehn. You can extract testimonies from my live-in friends.  Put funds on experiments to save the earth (Green Acs), bragging with an EOD bought with dual bank debts, I was at the crash  gate. I could not go lower. To quit the bank won’t  make it worse, I was launching into my full measure of happiness.

It was tough at the beginning. However, there was only one way to go – forward.  Finally, it was freedom, a gust of wind and it was the kind you get when you toil all night. It is of  a face soaked in hope finally finding his place under the sun.

I just want to do things better and  shine light in corners less understood. I am humbled that my kernel were cracked by gentle spirits and also grateful that I am the steward  of an idea who time has come. Someone else would have done BudgIT but bathing in the Zeitgeist,  here am I living my true calling. I keep thinking civic education, the liberation of minds sold to narrow narrative of a thieving elite is the way. We shall surely get there as long as we don’t wait for the rush but  gather into a whole, the trickle from the tap.

The special mention this year will go to my former employers – First Bank of Nigeria. Though, I wasn’t promoted in 3.33 years of working  with the “elephant”, the knowledge I gleaned was timeless and  those nifty skills work for me still. I want to thank my God Almighty, family, friends and you who won’t stop believing in me. You say I’m 28 and still single? I will be proposing soon when her “Yes” deafens me. We can then both giggle in an echo chamber . Life like the full 28 dominoes taken off the pack, stacked on each other, it is falling in pleasant places.

Re: Markets and Morality by Lanre Olagunju

My good friend Lanre Olagunju, a free market adherent believes that  the majestic clockwork of the market gravitates towards prosperity and abundance. That the concept of free market is pristine and only the external actions of men as evidenced by greed distort it. How do we tell this to folks who far off the American dream of home ownership, went in bed with bankers and got stuck  in the debt they won’t pay in a lifetime? How would we convince coal miners in Wales who will like to trample on Margaret Thatcher’s ashes because she left them bare to the fangs of the markets?  The market rewards greed – a sprint race to corner the profits, walk out of the door and slam it against the approaching next man. It is not only because the man is greedy in its brutish nature but because no other opportunity is seemingly so easy and harmless for greed to thrive than the one advanced by free market. It is the absolute opportunity in the greed that the free markets provide as seen in other economic ideologies that hangs a millstone on its moral compass.

According to Adam Smith, we are meant to believe that the unseen hand of the market converts individual act of selfishness into socially desirable outcomes. That there is a selfish imperative for the individual if the market is to function.  Greed and fear is revealed between a borrower and saver respectively is the basic swing of the society structure. However for a free market to live to its best function, there should be no cloud on the underpinning factors – price, competition and incentives. In myth of the free markets, prices are based on sound fundamentals and derived from a competitive turf with the right incentive to both parties.

In reality, the rush by every party is to maximize gain  can be cruel as seen of monopoly, information asymmetry or bloated incentives. Imagine I meet a trader to buy a LG Television in Tejuoso who says the product is original.  He also swore that he didn’t make a dime of profit on the transaction but sold it at a give-away price. However, when I got home, the fake product malfunctions. Though it was a free market with voluntary transactions, he maximized profit based on the information solely known to him. He also had an incentive to do so because the gain was great. If I also knew it was fake, I could have bought it for a tenth of the price.  Do we agree the market is ever free?

Imagine in 2000, we analysed what our telecoms boom will be and the eagerness of the Nigerian  to buy recharge cards, would we have sold our telecoms licenses so cheap and given bogus tax holidays? So do we have equal information to make the best judgment that transmutes to socially desirable outcomes? Free markets leaves chances for individuals to engineer its own ruin. Nigerian banks incursion into the stock markets was left to its devices and like a train on a full horn, its wreckage can be retold.

Free market favours the brave momentarily and in that matter of the brave to corner the glory, it might punching hard on the weak. A company wants to build monopoly or transform into an organised cartel who fixes the price and abolishes the concept of free market. A company discounting the environmental consequences of its operations on a pedestal of free market might be declaring huge profits and poisoning the stream that leads to a community.  In every economic activity, there is a private value and social value of any economic activity, however free market traders discount the latter.  The discounting  in the social value of transaction ends in bust and boom cycles, spillovers, environmental degradation and other externalities.

The unregulated sub-prime market was too tempting because the levers of control were withdrawn on the altars of free market and its  ruins is plastered in history. While the world will no more believe in the destructive tendencies of communism or socialism, never forget that these ideologies were never meant to breed psychopaths like Stalin, it was the opportunity of central control even for the meanest time that brought greed to bear. Leadership structure or an external visible hand was supposed to transmute communism into a state of equilibrium where all workers/parties are equal, each according to its own ability/interest, symptomatic to free markets.

Crisis lies in the opportunity oozing from the supply end of free markets and other sets of absolute economic ideologies . Microsoft would wish no one else in a software business. Google would wish we had no search alternative and so on for every brand. However, competition and incentives are  the pride of the free market but it must be hinged on  fair rules and vigilance to breed and protect  innovation. Can a large company take opportunities in free markets to advance monopoly by crowding out its new challengers?

We must abolish the naked opportunity to individuals and entities to overreach their greed and cause disharmony to the society. That’s why the government as an external factor is prime. Social democracies in Scandinavian countries are example of how to contain the godless contraption of free market with the hands of government. While I don’t believe in excessive control, the rules must be clear with punishments that guarantee non-repetition of breach.

But clearly the complex between the markets and government grows in our face. Here comes the question that after the global economic crisis premised on the greed on bankers and mortgage lenders to sell toxic products, has there been adequate punishment? Who are the biggest donors to democracies and why do governments who worship at the altar of free markets stepped in  to socialize risk while  capitalists made away with gains in boom times? Did the bogus bank executive bonus not end up in the echo chamber? Why would we want a system that discounts government ability to temper the perennial cycles that distorts harmony and stability that our world requires? The worries are always on how much government control could be but do we know how much greed can bring disequilibrium and inequity free market system? I don’t believe in absolutes. We have seen amazing technology such as Internet, space technology and medical research wholly funded by government.  As written by Lanre, I also believe in the amazing power of markets but that myth of it being is free is what I dissent. Not that I lack conviction by not standing by an ideology,  I just tend towards pragmatism, asking  myself what works in a situation. The facts keeps changing and I ask myself, what do I do sir?

I also change my mind.

Open Data : Amplifying the Voices

A cliché says that the easiest way to hide something from common folks is to put it in a book. Nigerian budgets as an example has always been in a ‘book’ – thick reams of pdfs difficult to mine and understand. However, most citizens without requisite knowledge in public finance or low level of interest will still be lost either data is published in non-readable or open formats. It clearly tells that open data is a means and enabler to the functional and self-accounting society we desire.

Notwithstanding, publishing data in open format is a huge step for the developers, data miners and geeks  to build ‘double helix of civic awesomeness’. The core task lies in harnessing open data for public usage and most especially how it drives to institutional reform, inclusive growth and improved service delivery. Open data is a correctional tool  and enabler for a society that requires transparency, accountability, institutional efficiency and improved citizen engagement.  A lot of work is needed at the both the supply side and demand side of open data to translate improvement. Based on a personal review of my startup (BudgIT) activities, I consider the following as critical for citizens to effectively harness open data

1.       Open Data must Actionable: To stay with the definition of Open Data is to strip it of its potential. A key aspect of open data is its power to initiate action. Data needs to move from being at a macro-level which is ideal for economists and public finance gurus to a deep-down stage where citizens and civil society can clearly ask questions. A typical example will be to see budget not released on ‘open’ format on abstract items such as infrastructure allocation or education spending. It must go deep down to the last possible unit where every veil of secrecy is torn and objective questions can be put forward. The World Bank Open Finances is a bright example.

2.       Educate the Citizens: Based on the society where I work, I seriously contend with a chain of literacy span. There is need for clearer definition of terms surrounding the data published in open formats. Getting granular with the context of the data is most critical to build a mass of followership that understands thematic areas in view. For example, in public finance items such as Recurrent or Capital Expenditure will need simplified definitions to encourage core understanding by users. This is highly necessary when building visualizations and infographics.  Citizens still need background information to clearly ask questions

3.       An Incentive for Citizen: Open Data needs to be citizen-centered. Applying Adam Smith phrase in the Wealth of Nations stated as “by pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it” is required in open data engagement strategy. There is a need to focus on building open data right to the mind of the individual on things that matters to him/her. If open data and its visualisations stay at the macro level and not built to focus on a citizen, it may have communicated too little. For example, public finance data needs to be crunched to an extent when the citizen is aware of capital projects and revenue allocations within  his/her neighbourhood. He/she is most likely to harness the power of open data and properly ask questions or trigger a debate through access to such personalized information

4.       Tell  A Story:  Open Data must tell a story to stimulate larger interests with the community. With visualizations built around it, it must shine light on winding corners. It must bring forth human angle stories  by converting stack of information to a moving narrative that drives a sense of ownership in the user. Working with Nigeria oil revenue equals to billions of US Dollars. Publishing such data in open formats must stretch further to describe the purchasing power of such huge amounts for citizens who barely rake in less than $5,000 annually. Lost in the ‘haystack’ of open data, citizens need a common thread to interprete the datasets.

 5.       Get Feedback to Institutions: Open Data cannot be driven on a one-way lane. Access to data is n’t enough. It must be linked with a feedback system that allows citizens or users to reach elected officials, public servants and other stakeholders at the supply side. Debate, discussions and comments emanating based on interaction with open data and its visualizations has to reach the required institution responsible for data or project improvement. An open finance data will need a feedback system attached to the head of implementing agency,  the legislator representing the area which project is located and possibly the finance ministry expected to disburse the fund. Such is the power of the open data and that citizens believe someone at the government institution end connects with their concerns.

These ideas are mined out of my new thoughts on driving open data in Nigeria most especially to amplify citizen voices in their demand for institutional reform and improved service delivery. This will be crucial to the revamp of BudgIT desktop and mobile web platforms and our engagement model with citizens in the short term. I also feel it is worth considering for open data initiatives springing up across the globe.

Oluseun Onigbinde, an Ashoka Fellow is the Co-Founder of BudgIT, a Nigerian startup using creative technology to represent budgets and public data. 

My Short List of Greatness

My Short List of Greatness

I once told Olumuyiwa Adejuwon and Simon Itodo about this. I face the mirror in certain times to scale my power of oratory. I am not planning to face Goodluck Jonathan in a presidential debate, the law and my present calling (BudgIT) won’t allow me. My effort usually ends up in mimicry of Barack Obama. I start on smooth sail with few familiar lines. I begin to rush into incoherence or even completely stammer empty words. I would peer of the lines of Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Reagan et al wondering how men could craft words so apt. But I will get there. I am someone who believes that if you can’t win be talent, why not be persistent with effort?

This is my height of inspiration when I see poetic cadences either in speech or fiction flow with so much grace. But most importantly, I am that person in search of narrative of greatness which I believe words have a huge share. I am mostly unmoved by popular narrative of greatness. They seem the affirm the thoughts of the expedient. I mean people would tell you about Obafemi Awolowo and his glowing wave of change that put the west ahead. I run ahead of such raft to peer at the men behind the veil. The Emmanuel Alayande, Simeon Adebo, Bode Thomas and Ladoke Akintola and many more would not bask in same glory. Not that I derob the Ikenne sage of his immense place in history. It is just a restless me finding peculiar heroes who remain unsung or not draped in immaculate glory.  Let me tell you of my new heroes who lived in great times:

Thaddeus Stevens:  Maybe this makes me loves a close brother named Thaddeaus more but Thaddeus Stevens is a man you need Google. No better way to tell the legacy of this man than watch the new movie titled Lincoln. We were five in the whole Silverbird cinema who watched this movie. If this was a Timberlake ‘Friends without Benefits’ you will see colour-blocked ladies falling over their heels. Such is my generation.

Thaddeaus was a white man who spent his entire life campaigning for racial equality. He was bruised and abused for it and in those fiery days when blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being, when justice was blind to color and education was elusive to the colored race, Thaddeaus married a black lady. The emancipation of Blacks might have penned by the majestic pen of Abraham Lincoln but here is a man who hangs the millstone on himself to ensure that blacks are free. In the end, the Thirteen Amendment which frees all slaves was passed by a thin margin. On that night of victory January 31, 1865, when he told his black wife to read the Original Amendment to him while he slept, I left the cinema in tears. That’s greatness.

I will tell you about Bram Fischer. Possibly you never heard of him. He had no fancy airport named after him like an Oliver Tambo or not in the ranks of eminence like a Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others. Bram was an Afrikaner and guess who the tormentors of the blacks were – The Afrikaners. They were the Botha, Vorster and Verwoerd of this world who believed the black man was socially deficient and cannot lay claim to common rights of life and liberty. At the Rivonia trial when Nelson Mandela gave his final address April 20, 1964, Bram Fischer, his lead counsel stood firm by him not because of the quick wages but because it affirmed his lifelong drive to see blacks free. He stood by his belief and went even to Robben Island to visit Mandela after losing his wife in a week. Hounded by on the surface of the earth and underneath, he was finally sentenced to confinement, where he met death through cancer. These are the words of Nelson Mandela on Bram Fischer  “bravest and staunchest friends of the freedom struggle that I have ever known. From a prominent Afrikaner family, he gave up a life of privilege, rejected his heritage, and was ostracized by his own people, showing a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself”

So what do we give up for greatness? I have many more examples to tell of Robert Graetz and Clifford B. Durr who were whites but were scaled beyond the planks of passiveness to make it a lifelong cause to support Black freedom.  They might not be a Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks who are forever lauded today but this people in their own rights and many unknown more stood on the side of defiance – disrespect to the status quo. They were committed in the face of ridicule and death. So what’s greatness? Is it having a lifelong battle to do something different even the popular narrative seems to be on a diverging course? Is it following your trail of justice and liberty not at the convenience of ourselves but for others and many more to grace the face of the earth. So my list can be short, there are many more unsung who toiled upwards against the norm the polluted their society. In their unmarked graves or present lives, these are great people. Let me end with Martin Luther King’s stinging words:

One of the prayers that I prayed to God every day was: “Oh God, help me to see myself in my true perspective. Help me, oh God, to see that I’m just a symbol of a movement. Help me to see that I’m the victim of what the Germans call a Zeitgeist and that something was getting ready to happen in history……Oh, God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there.  

The Accidental Public Servant – My Review

Nasir-el-Rufai1

Accidentally, I found myself at the launch of Nasir El-Rufai’s book now overtly referred to as controversial and full of insider details mysterious to the common citizen. I wanted to say goodbye to Jackie Farris of Musa Yaradua’s center and unknowingly, I launched into a midst of fellow labourers who toil in the digital and offline minefield, trying to raise active citizens. Standing the gallery peering at Nasir who was about to cry at his own book launch, his little frame struggled to fit into the grand agbada and one might wonder if  that small stature counts for a man whose narratives are being presented  in giant print.

Allow me by starting with that mild abuse, but this is overly fair to Nasir who in his book fought hard to neatly depict his characters.  He had words for Charles Soludo as ‘ Charles would wear expensive bespoke suits, complete with bright red tie” and  for the early days of Umaru Musa Yaradua as a man “ that never worked a day in his life,  that had lived off and been kept by his brother Shehu, that he was a free thinker for a period, and believed more in marabouts than his professed  religion’. It was that clear level of description that he wound up around characters either on his good memory – Nuhu Ribadu, Tunde Bakare, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – or those he peered through the dark lenses such as Ahmed Yayale, Atiku Abubakar and Ibrahim Mantu.

A narrative that hauls canaries into the present by reciting his account of the past, The Accidental Public Servant (TAPS) comes as brilliant read for folks not only interested in public service but finding a meaning to complex interplay at the top they possibly aspire to. Not the canticles of public service but reaching to the stand of a seminal publication, Nasir’s personal account unintentionally throws a reader into disbelief with sighs, wondering aloud if this isn’t stranger than fiction. These stories around the power play, serial tests of loyalty and forceful ambition of men throws recent happenings of the fourth republic to debate. To the unknowing future generations, this could be the single narrative of this era unless the ‘fallen’ such as Mantu and Zwingina step forward with their plausible side of the story.

A reader notices that the whole power space lies in the small junction of haphazard connected individuals. Nasir easily places a phone call to the familiar names that regurgitate in our country. He was that close to power. The 627-page book of which only 489 who counts as the main narrative starts with the story of the Third Term Agenda- the overt perpetuation of the old guard who still peered Africa through the lenses of the Big Man. The accounts of Obasanjo yes-men (Andy Uba, Ahmadu Ali, Tony Anenih ) who tried all means to arm twist a reluctant legislative leadership to their bidding were well written. In those banal moments, Nuhu Ribadu was hushed and cash was freely shared to power the gravy train. Even the ‘incorruptible’ Nasir was privy to the bounty given legislators overseeing his FCT Ministry.

The book went on to document his early losses in life, the choice of career, his rare early qualification as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor and how his early company faced crisis of ownership. Nasir kept a significant mention of Barewa College – a Northern institution that produced likes of him, Umaru Musa Yaradua, Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Mohammed. TAPS does not project Nasir as a self-made man because consciously, he revealed how he was lifted on the wings  of friends, seniors and peers. He would constantly remind readers on influence of his elder brother Bashir El-rufai, Hamza Zayyad, Economic Management Team, BPE and FCT employees and Barewa College friends.

Seemed the death of Abacha unearthed his moment to public service as he documented his steps from being a transition committee think tank under Abdulsalami Abubakar, BPE Agency boss where he had running battles with Atiku and schemed to give a lifeline to the EFCC and also as a FCT minister. He would even ascribe to himself the unofficial title as Obasanjo’s vice president in the last days of that tortuous Presidency due to the enormous responsibilities hurled at him.

Interestingly, he gives a good account of the pains of change, especially making Abuja a working city that fights the ghosts of Lagos. His attempt at the land reforms, justification for his last minute Abuja land approvals and his account that his wife had a prior application for a land in Abuja before he came the FCT minister were all listed. A lot to instruct the reader which include the story of flesh hankering after sleazy fortunes, the sale of government houses, running battles with Bashir Sambo,  the chase to prove equity in demolition exercise, his running battles with Umaru Musa Yaradua which forced him into exile and also harrowing account with the courts. His moments with Goodluck Jonathan and how he ended up supporting General Buhari were carefully written. In end, you miss too little in the timeline of Nigeria’s center during this 4th Republic.

Succinct lessons lie on interactions among the intellectuals who though see it as a lifelong battle to save the country, yet won’t rise above petty ego to forge a common front. He goes ahead to document the four mistakes of Obasanjo which includes fraudulently underpricing Transcorp shares to people in the government. This book offers insights and lessons on the challenges, pitfalls and common battles of a technocrat in public service . While Nasir may have told a story to prove that he stood incorruptible in the midst of brazen theft, it is left to the reader to subject the TAPS to independent reasoning and further research. Well edited by men of towering calibre, in its giant font, TAPS is silky to read but at the terminal pages, one feels sad as a father lost Yasmin, a promising daughter and grip of the polygamous family, to massive seizure in the bathroom.

Unpaid Goon of the Cabal

The Cabal and its kindred in government houses will always be among us. Either they lurk with greasy palms around Apapa Jetty or they sit in decrepit office in Abuja Pensions Offices watching over their mansions.  Didn’t we see legislators overseeing and benefiting from SEC funds at a go? Or Saint Farouk denying his voice and turning $620,000 in a needle?

On January 1  2012, President Jonathan struck the matchbox tossing the flame into an gaseous enclave. Rage was the word. It’s been a while the ‘aluta spirit’ that defies restraint possessed me. I ran into the streets protesting this brazen fraud. Caught in the excitement, morphing into angst against an ineffectual government, ‘we the protesters’ were absent at the negotiating table. NLC and TUC showed no hope resided in their yard. Like a movie already seen, they brought the mid-way solutions. The President in series of speeches  postured like a thespian with cosmetic measures that cured no ailment of sleaze.

But the pall of sadness over the wanton corruption tipped with the massive floods that displaced thousands, Aluu4, Dana Crash, Mubi Killings, scores of bombing in Yobe and Borno crisis. While the rich and famous took delivery of private jets, we woke up to a nation struggling to keep its seam in a stitch. With the Governors’ fold now suffering crisis, the affliction lands in the camp of our leaders.

For London, it was the year to bask in her ancient glory. The Olympics was rendered in magnificence but Nigerian athletes except the now revered paralympians  came home empty. Andy Murray will look back with his Grand Slam & Olympic medals and beam smiles. Lance Armstrong will behold his fall in same year and probably give a deep sigh. Chelsea will relish a year the Champions League triumph ended an era of ageing squad. Man City saved by ‘Fergie Time’ won’t forget 2012 quickly. The Spanish in their economic woes played captivating football to keep the European football crown. The Facebook IPO, fall of Zynga and Groupon, failure of Apple maps and launch of new tech gizmos are highlights of the space. In Nigeria the e-commerce war has begun with Jumia and Konga leading the chase.  

Obama will also stride in smiles after securing another  four year term while the Republican base remain rattled with  shifting demographics . The squash game between the bankers and Western government still tosses Greece and Spain around. The world in a mild recovery was dragged down the pitfalls of a faulty European economic zone.  China shuffled its leadership pack and also keenly watched its frosty relationship with Japan.

2012 would actually take more than a page in my biography. In my personal space, the last time I had a defining year like 2012 was five years ago when I proudly organized the UNAAB ICT Conference. Not because I found another employer, I just cleared a  new pathway that tickles my spine.  Listing the awards and global itinerary might come with a brush of pride but I am most grateful to the forces of history propelling me.

I kept thinking that day I decided to finally quit my job in the bank.  I dropped my id card. I signed the exit forms.  I faced the Samuel Asabia building and took a bow.  It was a defining moment to marvel at how the height of my passion has transformed  to running into untested waters. BudgIT, my double helix of civic awesomeness, like a new guitar rocks my life. Sadly, I could not publish my collections of stories. I didn’t write as I would have loved.  I didn’t read as much as I did.

2012 has ended. My President has gotten N161bn for stabilize fuel in festive period. Yet I still queue to buy at N110 per litre. It’s been another bazaar of committees, Diezani is firm on the throne, the fraudsters chuckle in court and the charade is now dressed in SURE-P.  Cursed for its sleazy ways in January, the cabal now have a temporary reprieve almost blowing into a last laugh.  In this scorched sun queuing for December fuel, I try to remember differently. While I trekked miles to Ojota in January, I could have been the unpaid goon of the cabal protecting their interests and their friends in power .

 

 

 

 

 

Influence : God

Friend of the Year: Joseph Agunbiade

New Friend of the Year: Moshey 

Book of  the Year : The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Facebook Friend of the Year: Babawale  Oluwabiyi

Tweep of the Year: @oniyiabiri

Person of the Year: Obiageli Ezekwesili

Happiest Day of the Year: 19/05/2012 – Chelsea won the Champions League

Saddest day of the Year:  Ogunyemi Bankole Taiwo’s death 

Song of the Year:  Outside by Tuface Idibia

 

The River and Graveyard

Recently I had the honour of presenting at the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki and as I touched down on the majestic floor, I felt an aura of ease around me. I could accurately call it a leash of  freedom. Freedom from a pile of filth inching to the gutters, rattle of noisy generators or discovery of another open theft of oil funds.

After having a sauna, in the breezy cold watching over the tip of the old cathedral, I turned around.  I asked a Finnish guy what he thought about Nokia. He quickly retorted “ Nokia to us is dead, we just feel it’s too big to die so quick”. I would see his frustration at how Nokia was losing share in the smartphone business and how the Finnish Company whose sales were once 4% of Finnish economy has  seen its GDP share dwindle to less than 1% in three years. It’s corporate taxes  to government coffers shrunk by 75%  in the corresponding period.

Most Finnish youths (possibly out of the 3,700 laid out by Nokia) are fastened to iPhones and Samsung products either checking a Google map or running through a playlist. No emotions in a land where Nokia should be on the throne. Even the free wi-fi that greets one at the airport is paid for by Samsung and it announces the S3 product in passengers’  faces.

My Finnish friend told me Nokia previously a paper, electronics and retail company was moving on as it seeks the next big startup to redirect its course. There’s a Nokia Bridge incubator where it gives $25,000 to its former employees to unleash a new startup and it also invested over $1m in a university to fund new mobile startups.

It’s a reminder to the lifespan of the company. One sees the bright pupil of the yesterday class struggling to fill in the numbers. How does  a company lose touch with innovation? When  does a warhorse in limelight go on a misstep and starts to hug a tombstone. However, the Finnish society wired to seek answers is excited with Angry Birds, homegrown global gaming leader. You move around Helsinki pubs and you peer at areas marked ‘Angry Birds Space’ which provides free wi-fi access.

Running round an innovation circus, it’s a tale of juggling many balls. To keep a steady hold to the consumer , not iterate fast and not fall prey to the Innovator’s dilemma, to lead in a sustainable way, keep a forefront in R&D and continually keep consumers on the cliff of surprise. No matter how little a space one tries  to innovate either as a startup or huge enterprise, the worry hangs there to deepen the reach to the attention or wallet of the consumer, to continually provide value and revel in a space of relevance.

For a company like IBM which moved on from personal computers to consulting or even Google spending fast to keep the user on hold to its search function, it’s the price of innovation.  As creatively defined by Joseph Schumpeter,  the profits that litter around from the tangible hold of today’s customers is the cost of innovation and being in  tomorrow’s business. In all as a person seeking to lead a frontier in public data access and visualisation, I keep a famous line in Michael Lewis  Liars’ Poker: ‘Wall Street (a hotbed of financial innovation) is a street with a river at one end and a graveyard at the other.’

The journey of a product/company between the river and the graveyard can be told in Schumpeter’s single phrase – creative destruction. It could be a whirlwind of the times pushing to higher grounds  or even small missteps leading to self-destruction.

Farad – A Review

Prancing between  plots of a troubled Northern region and a university whose chapel’s choirmaster is facing revolt from the clergy and the choir,  Iduma’s prose Farad reeks of exciting characters. With well-cut language, subtly revealing  its writer’s knowledge about classic books and topical  texts,  Farad takes the reader on a journey across the minds of converging characters living by on a cliff; they needed help. Help to the wayward lady whose memory sank after meeting Abacha in bed or to a confused life of young man whose sister was run over by a bus while listening to her short songs. For those who sought help from the thugs of an election violence, Reverend father Muna was a harbinger of hope in a polarised Jos community. Little could a Reverend father do to redeem souls of a violent clan as he also sought salvation after handing over his mother to death.

The novel assembles people who tried to affirm themselves of their true calling but fate hanged them by the balls. Being contrite after seeing their loved ones who seemingly pursued happiness gone, a brother suffers a career crisis after losing his music-drunk sister to a running truck; another one  longs  to preserve the  museum collections of a sister-in-law run over by a bus; an overbearing father goes weary after his son left on a journey  never to be seen or heard.

Farad comes with superb narratives quickening the pulse of a reader to find knots of characters in the loosely connected chapters. It reminds of one Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel which combined fine prose with sweet scent of poems. Farad disrupts a love story usually found between the sheets or trysts under an apple tree. Rather, it outlines an uncompleted love anecdotes  in Frank, Goody and Ella or Chika and Mosunmola. In a stream of thoughts, it could bring despair when you think  erotic love story has just begun – of a Reverend father Muna and Taibat in an hazy night of flying emotions or of Chika and Mosunmola, denied another kiss by cancer.

Center to the prose is a university chapel and its worshippers reliving thier past lives and how it connects the struggle of veteran choirmaster in his silver jubilee of stewardship. After caught filling his seed into a female chorister, Dr Addo led a plot to save his friend, the choirmaster, from the weight of Okon’s pen. A mirror of the society as after spent energy of the youth to replace a veteran choir leader, another old Professor takes up the mantle again.

Farad ends with the beginning, leaving its middle as a shuffled jigsaw. It blurs the lines between insanity of Lekan at the end, extreme irrationality of Moyosore at the middle and memory gaps of Ella in the opening pages. Born 1989, Emmanuel Iduma proves to be of the Generation Y as he polished his lively tenses with a stream of tweets.

Wake up in the  morning. Bear your silence.  Do some face washing. Find Farad that  gleams with fine printing. In the end after reading this swift and gorgeous piece remember  the referenced  words of Colm Toblin ‘We saw nothing, not because there was nothing but because we had trained ourselves not to see’.