When the Referees Also Wanted To Take Free Kicks, By Oluwadele Bolutife
We were not able to come to any agreement, and he became angry when I told him that was not how to run any organisation or even the country. I told him that he and his colleagues from all other agencies were there to make sure we did not shortchange the government, and therefore I could not reconcile that with what he was expecting us to do.
This is a story I have been very reluctant to write. It is a true-life story, which happened a while ago, and whose issues, if not handled handled correctly, can generate unpleasant consequences, part of which could rub off personal integrity. Only two people were involved – the other party and I. The person may have forgotten this by now. Even if he remembers, he would possibly deny it. And, his denial will bear a burden on me that I am not prepared to carry.
Of course, I remember the experience of General Bisalla and Colonel Dimka (both late), at the Military Tribunal following the coup of 1976. Dimka had then pointedly told the panel, of which General Bisalla was a member, that he, Bisalla, was one of them. The General did everything possible to convince his colleagues on the panel not to believe the story of a sinking man. They asked for evidence, and Dimka said, “God is my witness.” Nobody believed him. Both were eventually executed. Yet, it is very frustrating that the event keeps echoing in my subconscious, with its attendant trepidation and uneasiness.
Then, recently, as we exited the venue of the election preparation training of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), in Calgary, our discussion with the indefatigable Adebayo Adejuwon, naturally dovetailed into Nigeria, as usual, and the courage to narrate a ‘clowned’ version of the story surfaced. It was such a relief that I was able to voice it at last.
Dateline, 1998: Towards the end of my tenure at the rare privilege of being at the helm of affairs at Coastal Bottlers Limited, makers of Tandi Guarana (Soda drink), one of the many supervisory government agencies under whose purview our activities were monitored and reported for compliance or otherwise, sought an audience with me to discuss a ‘critical matter’. As it is in many establishments with the unnecessary duplicity of regulators, Tandi, as popularly called then, was not immune to such acts of regulation, despite its size, in comparison to drinks from giants such as the Nigerian Bottling Plc and the Nigerian Brewery Plc.
I had resumed duty as the CEO of the company circa 1995, after leading a team to undertake the management appraisal of the company that was almost going under then. After the report was submitted, I was subjected to rigorous questioning, especially about the key recommendations of the report. In the final analysis, like the Biblical Joseph, I was told that if I believed in those recommendations, I should go ahead and implement them. The mandates were clear and involved two successive stages. First, to revive the company, two, to take it to profitability. We achieved the first, but like an unconscious man who was restored, but could not afford medications afterward, the possibility of relapses became inevitable. My stewardship during that tenure may require a whole book to explain.
When we took off, our operations were to be anchored on three essentials, which were: Zero tolerance for all forms of stealing; complete, timely and accurate record-keeping; and team spirit for synergy and goal congruence. It was on the second matter of record-keeping that the meeting in discourse was premised.
As he entered my office, after the initial greetings, and beckoning him to take a seat, he fired the first salvo: “Oga, we are not smiling at all.” I wondered who the ‘we’ were, and why they were not smiling. He cleared his throat, adjusted his seat, and looked me straight in the face: “Sir, we are getting frustrated in the factory, and we have discussed with a couple of your managers, and they told us they could do nothing about it. In fact, they claimed, it was an order from above. The main reason I have to see you, sir.”
After thanking him, I asked that he should go ahead and tell me know what the matter was. Typically, of me, though, my mind had wandered to so many possibilities.
He then went on how we insisted in reporting actual production, without considering the ‘welfare’ of many ‘cooperating’ government officials assigned to our factory; and how they have been assisting in our ‘revival’ efforts. Of course, like in many conventions, they are given free drinks, either weekly or biweekly. My first instinct was to ask whether my people were in default. However, before I could ask, he confirmed that the free drinks were being given to them when due. “But what do we get from it? We take some to our superiors in the office, but even when we sell, the amount generated barely covers the ‘returns’ we are expected to give”. By now, I was getting more confused. I asked him what exactly the matter was.
He went on to narrate how in other factories, production is understated, and whatever ‘savings are made are shared, with the company not left out, or if the executives so desired, it is shared with them.’ When I asked him, how important the information was about revenue to the government, since the Customs Excise Duty is calculated on that basis, also the GDP contribution, no matter how little for statistics and planning, and NAFDAC for monitoring the volume of drinks produced and consumed. He was not perturbed at all.
We were not able to come to any agreement, and he became angry when I told him that was not how to run any organisation or even the country. I told him that he and his colleagues from all other agencies were there to make sure we did not shortchange the government, and therefore I could not reconcile that with what he was expecting us to do. He reminded me that they were also there to make money. I said within me, “e ma wo ogbeni ole yi sa, se Ijoba o san wo osu fun e ni?” (Look at this thief, is the government not paying your salary?). I told him that was not right.
As he made to leave, he made a statement that still rings in my ears ever since: “Sir, se eyin le fe fo Nigeria mo ni?” (Sir, are you the one to wash Nigeria clean?). He never allowed me to answer. He finally said: “This discussion never happened sir, and if you drag it up, it will rubbish you, sir. Good day sir”. He stormed out of my office. We never met ever thereafter. But I answer his question all the same. Even if I am not the one to wash Nigeria clean, I should not be seen as pouring additional dirt on the already stained garment.
How about you?
Oluwadele L. Bolutife, a chartered accountant and a public policy and administration scholar, writes from Canada.