The Lunch Hour

The Lunch Hour – Dr. Ola Bello, Executive Director, Good Governance Africa

Kagame is such that he scares his ministers. They stay in the office till 12 midnight everyday not because they want to but because they know if they don’t, the top man is not going to be happy”.

Dr. Ola Bello is Executive Director at Good Governance Africa. Based in Lagos, he oversees the governance reform programme of GGA-Nigeria. He is also lead resource person for the institute’s Natural Resource governance initiative, which draws on expertise across GGA’s Accra, Harare, Johannesburg and Lagos offices and the Addis Ababa office that is soon to open. A first-class international relations graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University Ife, he obtained a PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2006. He has taught at universities in Spain, Austria, France and Switzerland, including the Diplomatic Academy at the University of Vienna.

University – Science or Arts?

Social Sciences. I made a first class in International Relations at Ife.

Where did you go from there?

I went to work for Arthur Andersen and later KPMG as a human capital consultant for about a year. Then I went to Cambridge for my masters in International Relations in 2001. I stayed on to do a PhD which I completed in 2006. For my dissertation, I wrote on “The roles of regional states elites in illegal resource exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) conflict from 1997 to 2006”.

So, what do you do now?

I work in policy advisory. I am an Executive Director at Good Governance Africa. I oversee extractive industry governance reform at GGA. I am primarily responsible for the Nigeria office. We look at how oil and gas and other mineral industries could be better governed to create prosperity for all citizens. I taught in five universities across Europe, but I always knew my real passion was development policy. While in Madrid, I taught at the Universidad CEU San Pablo, but also in St. Louis University of the United States (its Madrid campus). I had a boss who was very generous to let me do that with about 40% of my supposedly full-time work. He himself was an associate professor, travelling to teach at Warwick University in the UK. In 2011-2013, I taught at a top French business school, the École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers. It’s a top French private university for MBAs and undergraduate courses. I also taught at the Diplomatic Academy at the University of Vienna in Austria and at the Graduate Faculty of the University of Geneva in Switzerland between 2013-2015.

Where have you enjoyed working the most?

I moved to Nigeria in 2016. This is my fifth workstation over the last 15 years. This has been a journey that took me from Cambridge in the UK, to New York, Madrid, Brussels, Cape Town and Johannesburg. I have found immense pleasure working in each of these different environments but if you pushed me, I would say Madrid and for reasons that are not very obvious. I had the opportunity to learn two different languages (Spanish and Portuguese) while I lived there. Madrid gave me a lot as a late 20-something-year-old, including the love of my life. So, if I were to choose, I would say Madrid. I also liked Cape Town. It’s a big cosmopolitan city like Madrid, with over 4 million people, but it still gives you that suburban feel. New York is a megalopolis; it’s exciting but can be exhausting.  In Nigeria, I enjoy hiring a boat and disappearing on the Lagos lagoon into Ilashe and environs. There are nice beach houses 10-15 kilometers from Victoria Island.

What is the biggest lesson you would say you took away from home?

As a young man leaving Nigeria, the lesson I took away from home is the one I also came back with from abroad: make the most of your opportunities.

What would you say was the best lesson you learnt at the university?

As an undergraduate at Ife, I leant that hard work is always rewarding.

So, who would you say is your best boss ever?

Richard Youngs, the guy who was my boss at the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE) in Madrid. He was the Executive Director at FRIDE when I joined. He allowed me to teach. He allowed me to do a lot of things he couldn’t accommodate in his own busy schedule. I was doing interviews in Spanish on TV three months after arriving Madrid, having never spoken the language before.

So far, what’s the highlight of your career?

I would say my role in the conceptualization, roll-out, and continued implementation of the Africa Mining Vision – AMV – of the African Union. I am still one of the people on the technical working group of the African Union. We are the brain box of the African Union on things related to mineral sector governance. We meet regularly in the lead-up to African Union leaders’ summit to inform some of the agenda related to extractive governance and mining and all those things.


Also Read: The Lunch Hour – Toyin Sanni, CEO, Emerging Africa Capital Group

What is your favorite kind of music?

Fifteen years ago, I went from a very stiff guy who could not dance to becoming a big R&B lover who won dancing competitions. I went to Spain and I fell in love with Latin music completely. So, today I am a certified Salsa and Bachata dancing teacher. When I dance, it is the only time my spirit is liberated away from work. My wife and I go to dance at the boat club at Awolowo Road. It feels like Madrid again, we relive our love for Latin music.


So, what are you reading currently?

What Everybody Needs to Know About Nigeria” by John Campbell.  I am fascinated by the chapter in which he describes a typical day in the life of a Nigerian politician. I think he perfectly demonstrates how Nigerian politics has over the decades not been driven by any mission or sense of objective or higher purpose and why no meaningful change has taken place in the country.


What expensive fashion accessories do you spend on?

I am a shoes kind of guy.

So, what’s the most expensive pair of shoes you’ve ever bought?

Let’s say now that I have discovered Nigerian caftan, I am investing in sandals. I am a proud owner of about 12 caftans.

Tea or Coffee?


Your ideology? Left, Right or Pragmatic?

Pragmatist to a fault.

What sports are you into?

I play football. I watch when I can. I swim, I play tennis. In terms of following global sports, my top three would be the English Premiership, UEFA Champions League and Formula One racing. I also like tennis a lot. I support Arsenal. I did like going to see Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu when I lived in Madrid.

What would you say is the best use of money for someone who has some to spare?

Using your money as an enabler of other people who don’t have, but this also has to create larger social benefit.

If you ran into President Buhari at the mall today, what would be your big policy ask?

That the president must know his limits. He is blessed in being the occupant of the presidential office. The president is not supposed to know it all, the president is the one has this limitless retinue of advisers and aides at his disposal. You will succeed in that role if you understand what you have got at your disposal and play to the strengths of everyone within the system. I don’t think he has done a very good job on that. He must make up his mind about who he trusts on his economic team, give them a sense of his overarching vision and objective of where the Nigerian economy needs to go and let them do the job.

What single policy change would you like to see throughout Africa?

For me I think developing a strong evidence base to support governance in Africa, and that is something that is very broad. You will touch on things like population figure in Nigeria. How do you plan when you don’t know how many people you are planning for? Perhaps, we prefer not to plan by evidence because it allows the politicians to underrate the challenges facing us and thus the work and seriousness required to manage them.

What is the best development model for Nigeria? India, China, Malaysia or Rwanda?

Because I am a pragmatist, I can tell you something we can learn today from all of those countries:

from Rwanda, it’s about driving things very strongly from the top. Kagame is such that he scares his ministers. They stay in the office till 12 midnight everyday not because they want to but because they know if they don’t, the top man is not going to be happy. And from India, I think what we can learn from them is growth decisiveness, you know organizing at scale. They say Nigeria is too populous, that’s arrant nonsense. India has got 1.4 billion people and somehow, they conduct elections, they process that fairly credibly and we have only a small fraction of their population, yet we have not managed to do that. When they decided they were going for cashless policy two years ago, it was criticized. It created a lot of disruption but now they are reaping the benefits. It’s now very difficult not to pay taxes in India. You get this result when you drive things strongly from the top. That’s what you learn from India and China.

What’s your favorite place in Africa in terms of relaxation?

Cape Town, where I lived for 3 years. I also like Accra and Nairobi.

What particularly attracts you about Cape Town?

Cape Town is simply the most beautiful metropolitan city in the world, with beautiful mountains all around you. If you want to get lost in an endless sea of beautiful green fields, travel along the Cape Town wine route. I have a Brazilian friend whom I told there is a city in Africa more beautiful than yours and they were going to slap me, but the day they came to Cape Town the argument was settled. They said, look this is something straight out of the pages of paradise, it’s that beautiful.

Someone you will like to holiday with?

It would have to be my wife. Do you want me to have dinner after she reads this?

Thank you.

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