2021 LSA Best Doctoral Thesis Award Nomination by Thesis Supervisor Obi Iwuagwu
I wish to nominate Abimbola Oyarinu’s Ph.D. Thesis titled “Odu’a Investment Company Limited, 1949 – 2016: A Study of the Politics and Relevance of Public Enterprises in Nigeria” for the 2021 LSA Best Doctoral Thesis in Lagos Studies Award and this is based on the following reasons:
Oyarinu’s work against the postulations of the Bretton Wood institutions and capitalist apologists establishes the pivotal role of government in business activities in any economy contrary to the popularly held view that ‘government has no business in business’. Of course, this controversy is hinged on the perennial poor performance of government owned businesses especially in Nigeria’s business environment.
Odu’a Investment Company Limited (OICL) is a public enterprise that belongs to the six state (regional) governments of South Western Nigeria. The case of OICL is particularly interesting for defying the stereotype of business ‘failure’ by state owned enterprises. The work explores the dynamics and importance of public enterprises in emerging economies like Nigeria by adopting a micro approach using OICL as case study to understand the larger issues that make public enterprises in Nigeria dysfunctional.
Oyarinu’s work is indeed a major contribution to knowledge especially in the broad field of business/economic history given that it unearths the secrets of the success of an enterprise that has ‘succeeded’ where other State-Owned Enterprises established by powerful regional governments in Nigeria’s first Republic collapsed under the weight of politics, corruption and managerial inefficiency. Hence, the work not only demonstrates the relevance of public enterprises in every economy but also shows the critical role of state capitalism in economic development.
It explores the development theme and unravelling in the process the significant role development corporations played in the economic well-being of Nigerians especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Based on this, the work further advocates Nigeria’s return to the regional political structure, where the competition between regions would create a thriving economy.
This aside, Oyarinu’s work equally highlights the role of globalization and international finance in the collapse of Nigeria’s manufacturing sector, where OICL made the bulk of its income in the infant years of the Nigerian state. His work also adds to the literature on Nigerian enterprises especially by reappraising the relative failure of indigenous entrepreneurship. It challenges specifically the narrative of pessimism by Tom Forrest in his book; The Advance of African Capital: The Growth of Nigerian Private Enterprise (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), which till date remains a standard text on Nigerian entrepreneurship.
Oyarinu’s work is analytically driven using mainly qualitative data. The thesis applies insightful theoretical and conceptual perspectives to the considerable corpus of empirical data collected from external sources and from OICL itself. The qualitative sources come from interviews, minutes of meetings, company journals, politicians, policy makers and experts. It adopts the historical approach of change and continuity, to explore the cause and effect of policy somersault on a once thriving conglomerate. The extensive use of primary sources, help to fill a fundamental gap in knowledge about OICL and public enterprises in recent times. The beauty of this work is located in the fact that it is at the intersection of political economy, entrepreneurship and institutional history.
The work equally shows how OICL was able to weather the storm in the face of government interference, state policy strangulation, and corruption. It further explains OICL’s response to the gradual switch in government policy from state capitalism to a free-market economy, and OICL’s response to this change, which saw several of its business concerns moving from manufacturing to the service-based industry. This is particularly remarkable because it helps to unearth the reasons for the collapse of Nigeria’s manufacturing sector in the face of neoliberalism.
It is therefore not surprising as Oyarinu concludes that ‘OICL cannot be considered a success, when one examines her books but once we put the challenges it has faced and surmounted into context, one cannot but appreciate her resilience’.