Nigerian officials train at Pitt to quell corruption in government

By Marissa Meredyth

Nigerian officials have spent the past four days in Pittsburgh.

They went shopping at the Monroeville Mall. They visited the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

And they took classes at Pitt. Sort of.

Twenty top officials from Nigeria’s customs agency began a five-day leadership-training seminar hosted by Pitt’s Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership on Monday.

The officials wanted to learn how to improve accountability in their businesses and better operate in a global arena, Kevin Kearns, director of the Johnson Institute, said.

In Nigeria, customs officials are responsible for instituting safeguards against fraud, corruption and abuse of office, among other things.

Buba Misawa, a professor of Africana studies, said government corruption and mismanagement of oil profits has crippled Nigeria.

As the leading oil producer in Africa, Nigeria has the potential to generate massive economic development from high oil prices on the world market, Misawa said. Yet more than half of the country’s population of about 80 million people live in poverty, their livelihoods destroyed by the brunt feelings of deprivation, he said.

He added that many Nigerian communities and people aren’t seeing money from the government’s oil supplies because corruption occurs on the local and state levels of government.

Rebel groups challenge the governments’ management of the conditions, each with very different motives, Misawa said.

Criminal gangs take advantage of the disorganized state of the region to commit oil theft, which undermines the government and furthers the misallocation of wealth, while political rebels rig elections for personal gains, said Misawa.

Kearns said Nigerian leaders need to foster a climate of change if they want to help overcome the problems of ethics accountability and oil theft.

In Wednesday’s session, the leaders discussed ways to toughen business restrictions, which will hopefully prevent corporate scandals like those that occurred in the U.S.

Kearns said that thought teaching the leaders was different than teaching Pitt students, he was pleased to work with them.

“The come here very experienced, often having managed a lot of people and controlling large budgets,” he said. “They have strong beliefs and are opinionated, with their own ideas about the appropriate ways of dealing with issues, drawing from experience.”

The program brought in prominent leaders in to speak, including Ernesto Butcher. As the chief operating officer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Butcher has experience in crisis management.

This was the fourth time Nigerian officials attended training at the Johnson Institute.

Kearns credited a former GSPIA graduate and Nigerian, Deji Olaore, with putting him in touch with colleagues in Nigeria to get the program started.

From there, the Johnson Institute has worked with Akin Iroko, CEO of TVL Consulting, a firm specializing in corporate governance and ethical issues in Nigeria. It also holds workshops to update leadership skills of professionals and works with the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria to plan the curriculum.

Kearns said Olaore saw this program as an opportunity to begin changing the political climate in Nigeria to make it a more successful and sounder place to do business.

Kearns said he hopes to continue holding the seminars twice a year. He said that in light of the G-20 Summit, people tend to forget how Africa can be overlooked during global meetings.

While the “don’t have the sparkle of the G-20,” Kearns said, “they hold equal international importance for the world.”