CBN, Regulators, and the burden of communication

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s monetary reform was struck down mainly due to the governor’s failure of communication.  An apparently good man, a well meaning Nigerian who is not afraid to be unpopular as long as he is in the right, Sanusi has repeatedly failed to realize that intelligence and goodwill are only just a part of what is clearly a political relationship – the astuteness to ensure that the people you serve understand where you are going.

Like the CBN, governments, federal and state, regulators and agencies, time and again, their pronouncements look absurd and laws seem draconian simply because the context was not provided to help all understand them.  We are still trying to recover from the Ministry of Agriculture’s scandalous plan to distribute 10 million mobile phones to Nigerian farmers as a strategic move to advance agriculture.  The plan, according to reports, which the minister is now denying, was to spend 60 billion naira to purchase these phones.  In a country where many are poor and corruption is rife, such news will naturally be greeted with incredulity and amazement, and such it was.

When the news first broke, the official of the ministry of Agriculture who said it was quoted verbatim.  In spite of this, the minister’s first defence was to say that the official was quoted “out of context”.  How much out of context can you quote someone who went so far as to state the number of mobile phones, the amount of money and even to say that the phones would be imported from both the USA and China?  Quoted “out of context” will make sense only if excerpts were used and then completed with the journalist’s own explanations.  It was therefore a poor first defence by the minister.  When the storm refused to abate, the same minister of Agriculture made several attempts to defend their position.  I once heard him on radio saying with vehemence, “Let me say loud and clear!” and then in the same breath he confirmed that there was no going back on the purchase of the 10 million phones, while insisting that there was “no N60 billion naira” anywhere.  Now, the tone, the demeanour of this minister caught in an awkward position is not exactly that of a servant of the people, but rather like a despot who is angry that his subjects are too slow on the uptake.  None of this in any case has really explained the true intention of the Ministry of Agriculture partnering with the Ministry of ICT.  If only they took the pains to explain things well to Nigerians, we would understand that it is their concern to remove the middleman in the distribution of fertilizer to farmers that prompted them to want to establish direct contact with farmers.  If they realized they owe their public an explanation and that Nigerians are important stakeholders, they would have explained that they wanted to ensure that farmers were kept up to date with technological advances in agriculture as well as the true market conditions for their produce, so that they always got the best prices.  Never mind that these farmers already have mobile phones and that the money could have been better spent, or that this may be an avenue for corruption.

Many have called the Lagos State government’s new traffic laws “draconian”.  It would seem so when viewed in isolated and “out of context”.  The context, which the government has yet to take the pains to explain to people is the number of people daily losing their lives on the roads because some mad man has 90 per cent alcohol and only 10 per cent blood in his veins; the context is that the Orthopaedic hospitals now have special sections for motorcycle related accidents; the context is that many Lagos drivers need psychiatric evaluation.  There is so much the government can do though, but educating people, communicating is as important is making laws.

We can go on.  The same can be said for every regulatory body in the country.  Every salesman and every customer support person knows it.  Your client may both act and be dumb but you never say it to her face, nor let your body language imply it.  You swallow your annoyance, remind yourself that you should be of service and then gently, patiently and politely explain what you mean.  That is one true test of leadership.

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