2023 and Beyond: Unlocking the Binding Constraints to Policy Execution in Nigeria

Professor Tunji Olaopa

Professor Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa

2023 is significant in the annals of Nigerian history because it does not only signal a change of
government, but more fundamentally, it signals a year that Nigeria could potentially get her
bearing right, especially in terms of a seamless transition from election, to governance, to
performance, and to national economic transformation. Given the dismal state of governance and
development in the country, it seems sufficient for the incoming leadership, going by current
excruciating experience of poverty and underdevelopment that Nigerians are going through, to
hold itself to an objective of absolute commitment to transforming the Nigerian state. Every
successor government is often confronted with a possibility of making history, by putting in place
structures and processes that facilitate good governance, rather than conforming to the expected
mold of failure. And so that opportunity might meet preparation, it behooves the ever-optimistic
governance and institutional reformer scholar-practitioner in me, to keep outlining the templates
and frameworks that any incoming government with the political will might require to really
achieve the necessary changes that Nigerians have been waiting for. And there is no better platform
than the //NES28 where I shared platform with an erudite panel made up of, HE Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, Mrs. Ifueko Imoigui-Okauru and, Mrs. Ofovwe AigImoukhuede as session moderator, which interrogated the sub-theme: “Unlocking the Binding
Constraints to Execution”.

Unfortunately, the success of any administration in Nigeria is a factor of the extent to which such
an administration could engage with the complexities involved in the policy process that feeds into
governance and development. Since independence, Nigeria has been plagued with acute policy
failure resulting from the structural gap between policy objectives, development strategies and
policy outcomes. And this structural gap implicates other fundamental issues from change,
program and project management to sustainable talent and knowledge management, as well as the
all-pervasive productivity problem.

One important way of opening up this discussion is to apply a diagnostic lens to Nigeria’s
policymaking and implementation dynamics and trajectories in the light of current expectations
about governance and development, as the basis for explaining past successes and failures, and
then to use this as the platform for extrapolating future possibilities. It is from this diagnostic lens
that we can then outline a framework of binding constraints, especially in terms of what have been
identified as gross impediments to reforms and transformation, elements that needed strengthening
and consolidation, as well as the solution framework around which new and potential drivers of
national performance improvement and change management programme. Binding constraint is a
technical term. It references a situation where an optimal solution to a problem is circumscribed
or conditioned by a constraint.

This means that the optimal solution would not be feasible if the binding constraint were to change even so slightly. In linear programming for instance, bindingconstraints constitute limitations to the feasibility of optimal solutions. Non-binding constraints,on the other hand, are equally limitations which have no effects whatsoever on the feasibility of optimal solutions. In administration, a constraint is binding if changing it also changes the optimal
solution in terms of getting policy objectives translated into development dividends. What then are
those issues that are really crucial for achieving an optimal understanding of reforming governance
and development reforms in Nigeria, issues that are critical for putting 2023 and beyond in proper
perspectives? I will identify and briefly discuss six of these binding constraints.

The first, and most inevitably, is leadership. All over the world, leadership sophistication is
required to build a change space that put together a coalition around which reform and
transformation of politics is facilitated. In other words, it is the first governance responsibility of
the government to assemble the cabinet and other supporting teams with the requisite IQ,
credentials, commitment and wisdom to get the task of realizing the governance and development
objectives done. This remains the first condition for good governance and development
everywhere, and it is more so in a country like Nigeria. It is the leadership factor, with the necessary
political will, that then further provide the backing authority, conducive environment,
accountability framework and performance metrics that make it difficult for the cabinet and
support teams to focus on the tasks ahead without undue interference by, chiefly, the Nigerian
factor, located around ethnic and religious shenanigans or outright prebendalism, another work for
The second constraint is the tendency, especially in practice, to separate between policy design
and implementation process. Thus, despite an increasing managerial sophistication in program and
project management, backed by change and performance management instruments and metrics, as
well as the M&E system with the attendant feasibility and modelling dynamics that have become
standard practices for monitoring execution traps and landmines, attention is paid to all this more
in theory than in real policy and program protocols for policy implementation in Nigeria. There is
therefore lack of clarity on the complex reality of the policy space and the understanding of the
iterative process involved in getting the policy process, from design to implementation right,
through strategic intelligence and the capability to deliver the policy objectives through the
tracking and removal of performance obstacles. Such tracking also involves the identification and
prioritizing of possible sources of implementation failures that needed to be appropriately
managed, and the gathering of preliminary evidence on possible challenges that are likely to arise
and create most serious barriers to successful implementation. On the contrary, and unfortunately,
policy makers often operate with the assumption that laws, plans, policy and projects automatically
gets implemented after they are designed or passed. Lots of available but scarce resources are then
invested in policy development and strategy articulation, while implementation planning and
analysis are neglected. This generate the implication that the contextual mapping of the
implementation force-field is rarely done nor capability review of MDAs made an integral part of
development planning and programming.

Another major constraint is the public service application of a service-wide, one-size-fits-all,
operating protocol, that effectively achieve regulatory control at the expense of limiting discretion
and creativity in project management. This constraint harks back to the issue of leadership
sophistication that opens up a change space for competent change agents, located in the cabinet
and supporting management teams, to operate efficiently. However, it stands to reason that even
if the government is able to assemble such efficient teams, their capacity to achieve performance
would immediately be circumscribed by a system that discourage administrative discretion and
governance creativity that allow thinking out of the box. This allows us to identify another major
constraint: the palpable absence of a reward and motivation template that could enable highperformance in government, in general. The public service system lacks performance management
protocols and machineries, like performance agreement or contract, together with dynamics of
incentives and rewards, for pushing the boundaries of performance and productivity. It is within
the systemic crack that labor unions institute their adversarial industrial relations culture that
further undermine the capacity of the system to become performance oriented, and hence efficient
in technical-rational terms.

All these binding constraints only reiterate the familiar narrative about how Nigeria’s policy
landscape is littered with beautiful plan documents and projects blueprints launched with fun fare.
In pursuit of its effort to genuinely facilitate governance reform and transformation, government
spend enormous resources hiring management consulting firms and policy experts to also
brainstorm about the technical strategies that support policy programming and implementation.
Unfortunately, all these efforts eventually end up being consigned to desk drawers and animated
PowerPoint. Or else, the next government commissions a new set of feasibility studies and
generate new blueprints and plans. All this inevitably culminated in gloomy statistics for the
Nigerian economy and development efforts in almost all indices of human development. one
suffices: the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index Survey, released by the National Bureau of
Statistic, says that over 130 million Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. This figure represents
a whooping 63% of the Nigerian population, and the highest poverty figure in Africa.
And here we return to the fundamentals: the real issue in the entire policymaking and governance
challenge reside in the urgent need to balance between doing the right things (decision making
quotient) and doing it right (getting things done or execution). Policy execution is the critical
fundamental to transforming the policymaking and governance challenge in Nigeria. The days to
keep multiplying governance plans, programs and blueprints are definitely over as we get closer
to 2023 and the general election. The incoming administration really require to get its act together
on doing it right! Visioning, planning and programming can no more be discrete sequential tasks,
done at the detriment of one another. It must rather be conceived as an integrated and holistic one
rooted on assumptions about the operating environment, public service capability readiness, and
performance management of the whole dynamic, among other necessities.

And the starting point on the way forward is to scrutinize the current reform implementation
strategy of the present administration. The National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR),
since 2007, has set the frame for reflection about transforming the Nigerian public service system
into a world class institution delivering efficient goods and services to Nigerians. And under the
current Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), the iterations of the NSPSR deserves
some loud applause for their foresights. Two key dimensions of these iterations involved
professionalization and deepening of performance management process. First, there is the
deployment of KPIs-based metrics to replace cumbersome APER system. This is meant to enable
results-based and M&E-rooted assessment of public officers through the critical utilization of the
elements of continuous assessment, dialogue and multi-source feedback mechanisms. The
envisioned critical shift will be underpinned by a robust M&E reporting system undergirded by
the dynamic of performance agreement, with job evaluation cum restructuring enabled new pay
and incentive structure firmly indexed to productivity.

The Nigerian public service is equally digitizing work processes across all MDAs by capturing
and storing documents and outputs of the civil service activities in a digital repository. This is a
critical advancement given the evolving nature of administration 2.0 in a rapidly digitalizing world
instigated by various disruptive technologies that are aiding the modernizing desires of
administration all across the world to achieve open government. There is also the ongoing
professionalizing of HR function across the service. This is manifest, most famously, through the
HR component of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The system
is also taking a path towards investing in a robust community of practice through capacity
development that instigate a service-wide emergence of a network of experts and technocrats. This
serves to beef up the service IQ, especially through the senior executive service, as concession to
the wisdom to wit, the fish gets rotten from the head.

Of course, more effort is required to get Nigeria to a point where the cumulated bad governance
of the past could be canceled by a concerted effort at ensuring good governance. We have gone
too far in the wrong direction to think we could be satisfied with just the barest reform successes.
We must keep pushing the bounds of reform effectiveness before we can dare to rest a bit on our
oars. In the rest of this piece, I will outline five significant reform think points that could generate
discourse around the condition of Nigeria’s governance and development objective, post 2023.
These think pieces should also be seen as a means by which we could unbundle the binding
constraints that have undermined Nigeria’s optimal reform solution for far too long.

One, and once again, we return to the irreducible challenge of leadership, and in this case, the need
to create a change space for pushing the required governance change. Leadership serves as a
regulatory and harnessing framework that not only generate a governing and governance vision
that all can own, as Nigerians. But it must also crucially build a coalition of change agents and
strategic teams all across the geo-political zones at the political, technocratic and bureaucratic
levels. This readiness to create the change space already critically approximate the key points in
arriving at a democratic developmental state. But even more, the cabinet and collaborative teams
must not only be highly strategic, it must also be guided by performance agreement and contracts,
circumscribed by a change management program, communication strategy, and monitoring and
evaluation system that is strong enough to progressively identify and remove obstacles to
performance, and configured to enable the different points of operations to work in harmony to
achieve overall results and outcomes. This has the distinct advantage of preventing political
jobbers and yes-men from undermining the resolve of the government. This way, the government
can immediately identify the core functions and responsibilities that must be manned by high-end
professionals in ways that cascade down the entire government. The performance agreement and
accountability frameworks, grounded within dynamics of authority and incentivized support, are
meant to guide the cabinet and strategic teams towards mediating the balance between “doing the
right thing” and “doing it right.”

The second critical issue, which reinforces the transition of the Nigerian state into a developmental
one, concerns the reengineering of the bureaucracy into a technically-reinforced institution that
can achieve implementation capability readiness. Transforming Nigeria’s governance framework
requires a public service that is intelligent, flexible, technology-driven, adaptable, forwardlooking, entrepreneurial and accountable. Such a public service will: (a) work to deepen an
evidence-based policymaking dynamic; (b) enable a policy management protocol that enhance
collaborative sharing among MDAs, inter-sectoral synergy and inter-governmental relations; (c)
better workforce and workplace planning that undermine hierarchies and remove red tapes, as well
as manage talents and succession planning; (d) expand the post-COVID new normal work
configuration through the institutionalization of remote working, flexible working hours, virtual
framework for operations, and so on; (e) launch a rigorous waste reduction program that will
instigate and enhance the national productivity paradigm shift through, for instance, the
implementation of the Oronsaye report , productivity audits that free up resources for development
projects, setting productivity targets for MDAs, and installing a technical-rational model for wage
bargaining that is indexed to productivity, and that drives a democratic and developmental
industrial relations.

Following the above as a correlation is the urgent need for Nigeria to develop, through its
performance-oriented public service, a national service delivery model. Four years, from 2023 to
2027, are too little and too many to achieve great governance objectives if the incoming
administration gets a better handle on time. The question is: what type of changes in four (4) years
will translate to significant outcomes and dividends in the lives of the people? For instance, how
many jobs can be created on an annual basis in the space of four years? What institutions will
deliver these jobs, and how? What governmental procedures and processes will hamper the
delivery of these jobs? These questions raise three critical issues. The first has to do with the
administrative model the public service deploy in doing government business. The second
concerns unbundling the cost of governance situation that disarticulate government’s capacity to
deploy resources productively. The third issue is that of the requisite institutions that should be
targeted to deliver jobs and create wealth. These institutions fall into three categories—those that
implement national priority project; those that regulate rules-based market players like the SMEs;
and the rule of law.

Restructuring the Nigerian federation is a fundamental issue that has gone through several thorny
and controversial iterations and discourses. I presume, without going into the entire issue, that
there are three significant areas that are indispensable to any restructuring framework. One, the
idea of resource control. The question is how to stay true to the content of the 1963 Constitution,
section 140(i), which provided for the regional control of minerals resources and recommended a
50% royalty to the central government. Two, the issue of state police cannot be wished away in
the light of the degenerating levels of insecurity. Three, there is the crucial matter of how the
sovereign wealth fund should be reconstituted to aid Nigeria during the rainy days.
Lastly, there is the issue of local government reform that harnesses grassroots governance through
the principle of subsidiarity and the deployment of social capital dynamics. The shift from local
government to local governance not only enrich Nigeria’s federal experiment, it also mobilizes a
people-centered development that deepens citizens’ engagement and mobilizes bottom-up
platforms for inclusive planning and programming, needs assessment, and project implementation
reinforced with local accountability mechanism rooted in community development charter.
2023 is fast becoming Nigeria’s political, governance and development threshold; a critical point
that define Nigeria’s sixty-three years of nation-building. The incoming administration cannot
afford to fritter the opportunity of four solid years away on the usual business of patronage and
primitive accumulation that will not only further impoverish Nigerians, but also heat up the polity
in ways that further drive Nigeria to the precipice. There are ways to achieve institutional and
governance reforms. All that is wanting is the political will to make them happen.

*Prof. Tunji Olaopa
Retired Federal Permanent Secretary
& Professor, National Institute for Policy
and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau State.
(Being Paper Presented at the 28th Nigerian Economic Summit – NES28th – on the theme 2023 &
Beyond: Priorities for Shared Prosperity which held at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja on the 14-15 November,