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Prof. Pat Utomi`s Passionate Somersaults

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Professor Patrick Utomi is arguably the most vocal economic commentator in Nigeria in the last one decade.   From print to electronic, local to international, media outfits have made the political economist their go-to analyst whenever an economic policy issue hits  the headlines.   Add the fact that the Lagos Business School, which he co-founded, is regarded as Nigeria's numero uno management institution, you will understand why many Nigerians wait for his position anytime an economic, or even political, debate comes to the fore.   In a nation where contrarian tradition is now history, this unidirectional opinion is forgivable. Pius Okigbo, Ojetunji Aboyade and other iconoclastic economic commentators of yore must be turning in their graves.

  I have watched with keen interest Professor's Utomi's commentaries on Nigeria's economy as well as his two shots at presidency in 2007 and 2011 and I wonder why Nigerians are not asking the Prof questions on his oft-flaunted messianic posture. Professor Utomi is a critic, to whom every policy - probably except his - is bad and will kill the economy.   But a heavy baggage hangs on the Prof's neck that makes some of us doubt his moral compass, if not justification, in commenting on national issues. Pray, what did Utomi himself do, when, as a Special Adviser to President Shehu Shagari in 1982-83, the economy was heading towards doom?   Records of what happened in the second republic, of which Utomi was part of, are there for all to see.

  What more, a respected Financial Analyst, Henry Boyo, says of Utomi:   "Nigerians should take Utomi's statement with a pinch of salt. His antecedents had been everything but transparent. Utomi has not made any meaningful contribution when economic discourse is in focus, because he has been largely a beneficiary (of the present flawed system). What he said is just, to me, playing to the gallery."

  Also appraising Utomi, another writer, Olumide Obayemi, writes:   'A careful historical examination of Utomi's antecedents and deep romance with the powers that be-the Shagari National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the moribund Volkswagen of Nigeria (VON) along with the dubious 'degrees' 'Diplomas' and 'Certificates' being issued to Bankers and the 'Giants' of Industries now being chased by the EFCC and Sanusi would show that Utomi has indeed corruptly benefited from those who have kept us in bondage for years.'

  'Check out the Lagos Business School-it has become a legitimizing institution where the 419 bankers go for 'vacation' and show off how successful they were employing 'American-Wonder' system in further cooking books up. In fact, Utomi is a director of Baywood Continental Ltd, owned by Baywood Ibe, one of those corporations engaging in issuing uncollateralized loans to their wives, in-laws, house-helps, etc ', Obayemi adds, also reminding us of how Volkswagen of Nigeria(VON), which Utomi was deputy MD of, was run aground.

  Yet, Utomi goes around with the persona of being the moving solution to Nigeria's problems, economic and beyond.   He has churned out a number of articles in recent time on the state of affairs in the country and each time I read the article, I agree with the submission of two above quoted writers on Utomi. Utomi is the only Nigerian analyst that believes nothing good has come out of the current financial sector reforms embarked upon by the current CBN leadership, except perhaps the masked men behind Renaissance Professionals. In his latest piece, titled, 'Why Nigeria Wobbles',   Utomi described the reforms as taking Nigeria's economy back , although he was gracious enough to admit that it was well-intentioned, a step above many other commentators on the sensibility scale.

  As he had always done in all his pieces in the last two years, Utomi carpeted the Nigerian government for its 'poor superintending of Nigeria's banking regulators' which he says 'could have resulted in two lost decades for progress of Nigerian economy'.     Criticizing public policy is normal, but making a blanket dismissal of the gains of the reforms is uncharitable, irrespective of who's doing the criticism. Recently, when the CBN reforms ended its year two, Nigerian newspapers went to town to get words from financial and economic analysts on the reforms.   Many of them, including Mr Bismarck Rewane, a fine economist that is not known for playing to the gallery, agreed that although there have been some pains (and any reform will always come with pains, called short-term price or sometimes long-term, if a trade-off for greater evil), there have been more gains and the era of regulatory lax resulting in wanton impunity by operators in the sector in the past is gradually becoming a thing of past, and the economy is beginning to pick. How this has set Nigeria's financial system backward by one decade, as concluded by Utomi, is strange to any objective watcher of Nigeria's financial sector. Petty as it seems, it is hard to perish the thought that Professor Utomi's regular fire in the direction of CBN leadership in all his articles in the last two years, has something to do with the stain that comes with his being on the board that mismanaged BankPHB, one of the banks CBN's hammer fell on in 2009; rather than a genuine economic commentary.  

  When the list of Nigeria's political economists is drawn for history books, Professor Pat Utomi's name will surely feature prominently, if not because of anything, for his lone voice in an era the country is in short supply of cerebral economic commentators, but for me, I go with Henry Boyo's advice: I take Utomi's statements with a pinch of salt!   By Suraj Oyewale

  Victoria Island, Lagos