Can any Development-Good Come out of Nigeria’s Bethlehem, Post-2023?

Professor Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa


There are two cogent reasons why I remain relentless about Nigeria’s chance of overcoming its development predicament to transit successfully from its ‘arrested development’ to assume its giant destined status, through a giant leap unto genuine transformation, after 62 years of missed opportunities. The first is simple: I really wish to see the Nigeria of my dream, and that of countless nationalists and patriots who have ever believed in this great nation, in my lifetime. And in some sense, I have this hunch that a few of us have a role to play in the fruition of this ultimate transformation, ex cathedra. That certainly is not something I need to apologize for, however presumptuous. It is that hopefulness that I just need to keep in perspective,and pursuing relentlessly, like many patriots who have passed on did, through faith, research, reflection and advocacy,until I can no longer contribute thoughts and actions to that possibility. The second reason is that my entire professional life has been dedicated to the task of researching and fashioning policy management frameworks, public sector development ideas, implementation research cum governance and institutional reform models, as critical elements of the development process that could take Nigeria forward. My institutional and governance reform expertise is therefore meant to initiate a development trajectory that Nigeria could harness to redirect her drift away from the precipice, for all that might mean for posterity. And, truth be told, I do not think that professional service to a country whose future greatness keeps getting deferred is done just yet. And hence, my constant angst about the fate of Nigeria as we approach yet another bend on the way to a possible transformation, or another hellish four to eight years of political listlessness.

In this piece, I pose a simple reform query: After the election is done and completed by February 2023, how can the elected administration move from the euphoria of election victory to the task of governance and performance? The perceptive reader would already have a clue where that question could lead. And in subsequent reflections, I would still rehearse the same issue, simply to emphasize what ordinarily should be an obvious narrative, justfor emphasis.Within Nigeria’s clientelist and patronage politics, once an administration gets elected,casualty is often the electoral promises—the political manifesto is shredded on the altar of pragmatic consideration of those who made the wins possible, in the dynamics of the short and the long-term theatrics. It has often been said that the first year of an administration in Nigeria is dedicated to fending off the losers in the zero-sum game (of the politics that Nigerian nation had played), through tribunal and court hearing. The second year is dedicated to “settling” backend political negotiations and high-politics. And before the administration could get a sense of what is imperative in transforming the lives of Nigerians in the third year, the end of the administration is already looming. And the vicious cycle of electoral shenanigans commences again!

This narration of the parceling out of the critical four years that could transform a nation’s fortune already puts a focus on the experiential cynicism that attends Nigerians’ reactions to the historical disjuncture between genuine expectations and failed governance of consecutive administrations from independence till date. So many have already given up on 2023, even before the first vote is cast. The political cynics says “voting is a scam” or that “Nigeria is too bad for a change,” or even that “the next administration cannot do better than the last.” And who can blame a citizenry that has borne the full brunt of bad governance since the founding of Nigeria? And yet, I feel compelled all the time, despite the allure of cynicism and pessimism,to keep interrogating the crannies and fault-lines of governance and developing in Nigeria in search for reform and change management creativepossibilities. And that optimism is fueled by that suspicion that a leader could still emerge who has the capacity to take the bull by its unruly horns and force a change through sheer political will, vision and strategy. There are so many examples of countries that had been pulled back from the very brink of instability through innovative statecraft and vision.

This already focuses our attention on the role of leadership as the crucial game changer in post-2023 Nigeria. Since it is impossible to import leaders from Mars, the search for that turnaround in 2023 and beyond is now focused around the possible incumbency of Peter Obi, Bola Ahmed Tinubu or Abubakar Atiku. Come February next year, one of these three will be saddled with the onerous political task of redirecting the future of the Nigerian state. And this is despite whatever political critics and commentators make of their existing scorecards of political and governance achievements or failure. Given the benchmarked metrics for determining leadership qualifications and competences, the three candidates have both their high and low points. This simply implies that Nigeria does not need an angel to make a success of transformation. On the contrary, what is needed is a dogged determination to weigh the balance of what needed to be done, and to just do it. This will involve a mixture of conceptual awareness, political sagacity, leadership and policy sophistication and the political will to make things happen.

For the new administration to succeed, there must first be the urgency to transcend the tricky and diabolical “elite bargain” for the imperative of “development bargain”. Elite bargain derives from the strategic negotiations of a nation’s elite to feather their own lust for primitive accumulation enabled by a rentier culture, rather than pursuing innovative out-of-the-box policies and strategies that could initiate economic growth and development. Development bargain demands betting on the possibilities of a nation achieving progress through negotiated economic bargains and reform dynamics. With development bargains, the elite deliberately become nationalistic in the sense of enabling a collective sense of national belonging that sacrifice together to make the nation great. Elite bargains always sacrifice the citizens on the altar of the greed of the political class.And for anyone who would be courageous enough to administer the Nigerian state, the task is to move from mere political rhetoric to the brass tacks of rigorous policy intelligence, analysis, negotiation, design and implementation. This implies putting in place a policy portfolio, beyond mere campaign noises, that could be modeled into a solid governance architecture that could be efficiently performed to birth a new productivity framework that defines a development progress.

Development bargain is first a critical function of vision, strategies and targets. There must be a macro-economic template of action that will allow for lost ground to be recovered first, before the economy could accelerate in any significant sense. In other words, Nigeria requires like a 15% GDP consistent growth rate over the next twenty-five years to be able to make the economy worthwhile in productivity terms and therefore attain a medium-power status. The N450 billion economy of today needs to multiply at least five time to be able to make any economic sense that will alleviate the suffering of Nigerians. The implication of this is that the leadership, as game changer, must focus critical attention on determining the pressure points of policy frameworks, functional areas and expert domains that will serve as catalysts to create the desired change, shift and transitions that are needed for socioeconomic transformation. Put in proper-speak, the incoming administration must be determined not to appoint people mainly for political compensation but wise enough to be guided by the imperatives of technical-rationalism and smart practice guidelines that demand that appointment to critical defining nodal point offices and posts must be accompanied by performance contract and targets. The administration must select its first-eleven team with political and administrative wisdom guided by the team’s capacity to match vision and strategy to objectives and development targets and outputs. Within the change space that the leadership must necessarily make possible, the technical team must then take charge at the strategic, tactical and operational or political, technocratic and bureaucratic leadership levels, with the relevant supportive backends incentives, resourcing, support and accountability structures, that together constitute the critical template around which the leadership align vision to policy architecture for development.

Within the Nigerian socioeconomic context, a game changing leadership willing to enter into a development bargain rather than elitebargain, must be ready to confront and engage with certain difficult development challenges and take firm decisions around them. First, there is the imperative of diversifying Nigeria’s monocultural oil-based economy. this decision must ride on the out-of-the-box economic calculation that recognize the role of agriculture plus, and labour productivity, in proper proportion to transforming the productive base of the Nigerian economy. It will take a really courageous leadership to take the agricultural revolution (requiring 95% science and 5% labor function) seriously in the face of the enduring seduction of the crude oil. And yet, only a visionary leader will see that staying with the oil economy is a sinking endeavor. Starting with the prioritization of agriculture, and even the mineral sector, the new leadership would have taken a bold step towards making Nigeria a production cum export-based economy. And second, a significant dimension of the change space must be dedicated to rethinking the capacity of the state to achieve development vis-à-vis productive capacity of the private sector as the template and engine room of performance management. This requires reflecting over the evolving role of the state relative to the market in the development process.

At a deeper level, courage is equally required to get a handle on dozens of extant legislations that must be recrafted to unlock critical binding constraints to development, while at once pushing through constitutional amendments that will make Nigeria a federation not just in name but in fact. Nigeria’s federal arrangement is the only one that has the capacity to allow for the fulfilment of the national project, and the birth of a development framework that genuinely transforms the socioeconomic capabilities of Nigerians. The current lopsided arrangement will only keep stifling whatever genuine efforts any leadership makes in making Nigeria work. Without a truly federal constitution that enables constitutionalization of local governance, the grassroots will never be the source of a development paradigm that is enabling for democratic governance. A regional arrangement could be refashioned around the six or more geopolitical zones, and instigated to activate their comparative advantages that build regional economic corridors of development.

Leadership success, or even failure, is institutiondriven. There is no democratic governance that could enable development outside the frameof a measured and monitored institutional paradigm for generating productivity. The incoming administration must then realize that Nigeria’s post-2023 turnaround depends on a carefully curated public service institutional reform that aligns the operational capacity of the public service to the development objectives of the Nigerian state. This is the firm basis on which a developmental state is built worldwide. And no administration with the determination to transform Nigeria post-2023 will ever do so outside of a capable developmental state. We cannot dare allow everything to return to business as usual. I doubt that Nigeria’s future can survive that elite bargain.


Tunji Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, is a Professor at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State.