‘Why we can’t develop without institutions’

Professor Koyinsola Ajayi

Earlier this week the Nigerian Bar Association kicked off its 57th annual general conference themed, African Business: penetrating through institution building. CNBC Africa’s Esther Awoniyi caught up with Professor Koyinsola Ajayi, Chairman, Technical Committee on conference planning, and started the conversation by asking about the thoughts behind the conference’s theme.

NBA is focusing on building strong institutions because of the realisation that this is a land of opportunity and a place of the future. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing that can really happen if you don’t have institutions backing it. Democracy will not be sustained, development will not be scalable and human capacity will be limited if you don’t have strong institutions. I will give you a very good example. The first accountant in Nigeria is Chief Akintola WIlliams and he became an accountant in 1948. Now well over 70years before him you had Sapara Williams who was already a practicing lawyer. Up until the 60s and 70s, the law firms were much bigger than the accounting firms, but today, because the accounting firms have institutions behind them. You have accounting firms that have a thousand accountants behind them. Today there is no law firm that can boast of a tenth of that and that is because today there are no law firms that can be described as institutions. I think it derives from a tradition which evolved from a part of legal practice in England which is advocacy. Barristers are single practitioners. They don’t hand over their practices. Their practices die or retire with them and that is the kind of thing we’ve brought here, forgetting that in the same England you have solicitors that have 2000, or 3000 professionals that ave been around for well over 200 years. It’s the same thing for businesses. You have businesses in Nigeria that you find were very strong in the 60s and no where today. Apart from people like Dangote and some of the banks, we have no strong institutions in the country. We decided this year to focus on institution building and looking not just at legal practice but the country and the continent as a whole.

I’d like to ask you this and I imagine that it’s going to be one of the key questions that will be asked at this year’s conference. Why does Nigeria continue to struggle or have problems with building institutions?
Well, one of the reasons in law is that we’re barristers. As a nation one of the reasons why we don’t have strong institutions is unfortunately because of mediocrity. A lot of us focus on corruption as the bane of society. I think deeper and beyond corruption is mediocrity and I think that’s where the problem lies. Now, that has been one of the problems that has stopped institution building in Nigeria, so at this conference we brought thought leaders, world class academics, first class professionals from all over the world. We have here, the international bar association, we have Thomas International, one of the leading consulting practices in the world, we have the Nigerian Economic Summit group, a key factor in the Nigerian economy, we have Phillips Consulting, we have the the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. These institutions are partnering with us to look at various things that will help us develop as institutions and we are looking at this at different levels. We start with the individual, we look at the firm, we look at our states, we look at the nation and we look at the continent, so we have have subjects like debt as a drag on institution building, which looks at borrowing by corporates, so the Minister of Finance in Ghana will look at that panel. On State Governance, the Governor of Oyo State will talk about that, and then we also have an economist that will sit down with them to look at the corporate sector and joining the panel will also be the President of the African Export Import Bank to look at this on a continental level. We’re looking at individuals, we are looking at the 360 you which is how people look like you. How do we brand ourselves? How do we project ourselves? In terms of institutions we are not just looking at corporate bodies, we are looking at individuals as institutions. We have a man in Nigeria called Rotimi Williams who is an institution in the law. Awolowo is an institution in the law.

These are individuals, so we’re looking at things that will help us as individuals to become institutions in our own right. We then go on to firms, we go to the practices, how these will become institutions that will outlive us. We have sessions on session planning, so we have the Managing Partner of PWC talking to us. We have things like talent management as well. These are things that we have brought to the table with the aim of knowledge sharing o knowledge development and networking. As you can see we have delegates from 15 different countries, and different professions. There are bankers, lawyers, accountants, and businessmen. What we have done as a professional body is to create a network of people that will change the tonality of voice around the continent.

So you are hoping that when this is over, we will walk the talk?
Our hope is that when this is over and we look back at NBA 2017 AGC they say that the Nigerian Bar Association has assisted us in preparing ourselves for what digital natives plan for us. We believe and hope that what we come up with will prepare us truly as a nation for the fourth industrial revolution which in itself is deconstructing things and building new things. So we’re standing on different foundations and different stilts and we hope that we will come up with policy statements that will help the military. For instance we have a session on military business which will talk about civilian use of military inventions so the chief of army staff will be here, the Inspector General of Police and the new head of the Defence Research Bureau will be here. This begins to show you how we hope to shape the budgeting for the military. At the end of the day our National Assembly will know that budgeting for the military is not only about guns and ammunition, it is about putting money in research and in the navy and in the airforce in a manner that will help us as a nation.

Earlier this week the Nigerian Bar Association kicked off its 57th annual general conference themed, African Business: penetrating through institution building. CNBC Africa’s Esther Awoniyi caught up with Professor Koyinsola Ajayi, Chairman, Technical Committee on conference planning, and started the conversation by asking about the thoughts behind the conference’s theme.NBA is focusing on building strong institutions because of the realisation that this is a land of opportunity and a place of the future. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing that can really happen if you don’t have institutions backing it. Democracy will not be sustained, development will not be scalable and human capacity will be limited if you don’t have strong institutions. I will give you a very good example. The first accountant in Nigeria is Chief Akintola WIlliams and he became an accountant in 1948. Now well over 70years before him you had Sapara Williams who was already a practicing lawyer. Up until the 60s and 70s, the law firms were much bigger than the accounting firms, but today, because the accounting firms have institutions behind them. You have accounting firms that have a thousand accountants behind them. Today there is no law firm that can boast of a tenth of that and that is because today there are no law firms that can be described as institutions. I think it derives from a tradition which evolved from a part of legal practice in England which is advocacy. Barristers are single practitioners. They don’t hand over their practices. Their practices die or retire with them and that is the kind of thing we’ve brought here, forgetting that in the same England you have solicitors that have 2000, or 3000 professionals that ave been around for well over 200 years. It’s the same thing for businesses. You have businesses in Nigeria that you find were very strong in the 60s and no where today. Apart from people like Dangote and some of the banks, we have no strong institutions in the country. We decided this year to focus on institution building and looking not just at legal practice but the country and the continent as a whole.

I’d like to ask you this and I imagine that it’s going to be one of the key questions that will be asked at this year’s conference. Why does Nigeria continue to struggle or have problems with building institutions?
Well, one of the reasons in law is that we’re barristers. As a nation one of the reasons why we don’t have strong institutions is unfortunately because of mediocrity. A lot of us focus on corruption as the bane of society. I think deeper and beyond corruption is mediocrity and I think that’s where the problem lies. Now, that has been one of the problems that has stopped institution building in Nigeria, so at this conference we brought thought leaders, world class academics, first class professionals from all over the world. We have here, the international bar association, we have Thomas International, one of the leading consulting practices in the world, we have the Nigerian Economic Summit group, a key factor in the Nigerian economy, we have Phillips Consulting, we have the the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. These institutions are partnering with us to look at various things that will help us develop as institutions and we are looking at this at different levels. We start with the individual, we look at the firm, we look at our states, we look at the nation and we look at the continent, so we have have subjects like debt as a drag on institution building, which looks at borrowing by corporates, so the Minister of Finance in Ghana will look at that panel. On State Governance, the Governor of Oyo State will talk about that, and then we also have an economist that will sit down with them to look at the corporate sector and joining the panel will also be the President of the African Export Import Bank to look at this on a continental level. We’re looking at individuals, we are looking at the 360 you which is how people look like you. How do we brand ourselves? How do we project ourselves? In terms of institutions we are not just looking at corporate bodies, we are looking at individuals as institutions. We have a man in Nigeria called Rotimi Williams who is an institution in the law.

Awolowo is an institution in the law. These are individuals, so we’re looking at things that will help us as individuals to become institutions in our own right. We then go on to firms, we go to the practices, how these will become institutions that will outlive us. We have sessions on session planning, so we have the Managing Partner of PWC talking to us. We have things like talent management as well. These are things that we have brought to the table with the aim of knowledge sharing o knowledge development and networking. As you can see we have delegates from 15 different countries, and different professions. There are bankers, lawyers, accountants, and businessmen. What we have done as a professional body is to create a network of people that will change the tonality of voice around the continent.

So you are hoping that when this is over, we will walk the talk?
Our hope is that when this is over and we look back at NBA 2017 AGC they say that the Nigerian Bar Association has assisted us in preparing ourselves for what digital natives plan for us. We believe and hope that what we come up with will prepare us truly as a nation for the fourth industrial revolution which in itself is deconstructing things and building new things. So we’re standing on different foundations and different stilts and we hope that we will come up with policy statements that will help the military. For instance we have a session on military business which will talk about civilian use of military inventions so the chief of army staff will be here, the Inspector General of Police and the new head of the Defence Research Bureau will be here. This begins to show you how we hope to shape the budgeting for the military. At the end of the day our National Assembly will know that budgeting for the military is not only about guns and ammunition, it is about putting money in research and in the navy and in the airforce in a manner that will help us as a nation.



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