President Tinubu and the Change Management Imperatives for a Post-2023 Nigeria

Professor Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa


We have arrived at a key defining moment in the historical trajectory of Nigeria. And that moment is signaled, for me, by the election of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. And it does not matter what architecture of expected failure contrary opinions might have built over time. What is important is that Tinubu has managed with success the dynamics and the struggles that have thrusted himinto leadership at the zenith of democratic expectations in Nigeria, and he needs to deliver. I believe that rather than waiting for him to fail, part of our democratic responsibility to our great nation is to give him the best possible supports in terms of ideas and insights, as well as the vigilance to monitor all the policy push and pull, as force-field, that he will be making for the betterment of Nigerians.

The essence of democratic governance is performance. And that performance is measured in terms of what democratic governance could deliver for citizens on whose behalf governments hold political power. George Bernard Shaw once remarked that “democracy is a device that ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserved.” The critical question, from Shaw’s fundamental understanding of democratic governance, is: what do Nigerians think they deserve? And, to stretch that question further, how can Nigerians lodge what they think they deserve forcefully within the policy architecture of the new administration?

Thus, beyond the mudslinging of the electoral campaign, the anger and bitterness that characterized the administration of the elections, and euphoria of election victory, how can Asiwaju Tinubu assuage the democratic expectations of Nigerians, both those who massively elected him and those who exercised their democratic rights to vote against him? In other words, what are the most strategic and decisive ways for him to hit the ground running, especially within the notorious first one hundred days in office? This question is critical within the context of the debilitating deficits that Nigeria has amassed for its sixty-three years of existence as a sovereign state. In sixty-three years, a lot of things that could go wrong had gone wrong—from inflation and macroeconomic destabilization to insecurity, from youth unemployment to child mortality, from poverty to poor healthcare delivery, and from infrastructural deficit to increasing political apathy. Asking about what Nigerians ought to expect within the first 100 days of this administration is therefore a critical expectation that is justified within the experiential landscape of Nigerians. The new administration is already a burdened one, confronted essentially by the stark tension generated by years of bad governance and bad politics that the political class had foisted on Nigerians. And Nigerians have a right to expect any administration that it pleases fate to put in the saddle to alleviate their suffering.

My own expectation of making the first 100-days symbolically and strategically fundamental is hinged on the divine responsibility of the government to attend to the social contract that binds it to the governed. By its acceptance of the democratic mandate, the Tinubu administration has by that fact signed a performance and good governance contract with Nigerians. Nothing else will consummate this contract than the roll back of all elements of bad governance that have undermined the well-being of Nigerians in the past 63 years. And that objective is facilitated by the possibility of institutional and governance reforms that set the stage critically for the intelligent policymaking that pushes the boundaries of productivity. This implies a vigorous and willful administrative agenda that puts the public service in focus as the engine room of good governance in Nigeria. This is a definite signal to the will to perform that the new administration must send out into the Nigerian space that is so indescribably filled with despair and pain with regards to unabating and ever-recurring governance miscalculations.

For me, there are two big issues that cast their palls on the socioeconomic possibilities of the Nigerian state. They must take precedence in the totality of other issues that the new administration may find fundamental. The first, of course, is the need for an economic and development agenda, and the imperative of determining—as a matter of ideological necessity—the relative roles of the market and of the state, and their relationship with each other. This has very large and determining significance, especially on the nature, content and direction of the policymaking dynamics the new administration would need in order to orient its development agenda. This is critical because an uncritical adoption of market mechanism, which binds a state willy-nilly to the existing neoliberal hegemonic policy framework, could already be suffocating. On the other hand, there is a growing understanding about the role that the state is expected to play in development projects, contrary to the ideological expectations of, say, the Bretton Woods institutions, the Washington Consensus or the Chinese expansive adventurism.

Such a robust developmental role for the state is the idea behind transforming a state into a democratic and developmental one, and infusing it with the capabilities to implement policies and deliver development tangibles. This already implies a policy architecture that demands transforming the policymaking functions into a strategic and intelligent one suited for the twenty-first century. It also, most fundamentally, speaks to the urgent imperative of an institutional reprofiling of government business and functions. In other to run a lean and efficient administration, the Tinubu government must pay attention to the critical difference between the core and the non-core functions of government. The lifetime of an administration—either four or eight years—are too short to be spent on an unnecessary convolution of businesses and functions that will detract from the utmost impact the government could make in the lives of her citizens. Thus, determining the role of the state in development agenda is also tantamount to determining what will constitute the issues of paramount importance for the government to focus on. For instance, the new administration will need to offload many non-core responsibilities, like the management of unity schools, firmly addressing the matter of institutional (administrative cum financial) autonomy for Nigerian universities, outsourcing of railway services, critical ports administration functions, the airports, to name just a very few.

This takes me directly to my next reflection point for the change management strategyfor the new administration. Commencing the task of democratic governance without determining the framework to immediately address the cost of governance burden will already doom the administration to failure. This sounds too gloomy and blunt, but there is no other way to put it. And I am certain Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu understands this explicitly. Part of his democratic credentials and patriotic fervor has to do with his commitment to fiscal federalism that is key to the stentorian call for restructuring that has been one of the core and defining ideological elements of the APC. The unsustainable cost of governance conundrum fractures every attempt at unraveling why Nigeria’s federalism is lopsided and incapacitated.

The critical question that would determine this administration’s success or failure is simple but fundamental: how can this expensive and wasteful brand of federalism be made most cost effective in critical ways that aligned it to productivity indices? One immediate response to this query lies in the capacity of the new Tinubu administration to achieve strategic appointments that will form the content of the change space within which the policy objectives and development agenda of the administration can be crafted and implemented. Of course, the Nigerian Constitution makes it imperative, by virtue of the federal character principle, the need to achieve representation in ministerial appointments across the 36 states plus Abuja. But this requirement must not necessarily translate into 37 ministerial job-roles. Indeed, some high-profile government agencies appointable positions are even more prestigious and powerful than cabinet positions thus qualifying them to be rated, even if not designated,as cabinet ranks for purposes of representativeness of states. With a critical and macro-institutional remapping of the top-level appointable positions such asChairman (FIRS), EVC (NCC), CG (Customs), Chairman (NPA), the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, MD (NIMASA), ES, NUC, and many crucial others—could serve as the basis not only for inclusion in appointable national top positions, but also the framework for diversity management that emphatically undermine the bad consequences of a good principle.

The president requires a firm and professional statement on some fundamental and strategic appointments that must not be allowed to be sullied by the politics of patronage. Let me quickly elaborate with specifics. First, and obviously, relates to who the administration appoints as the national security adviser. It becomes bad politics as usual if this is made the point of patronage. Appointing a national security adviser must be done with as dispassionate and strategic intention as possible. The same goes for the constitution of an economic team. And the president must be clear about who heads this team. In this sense, the office of the Honourable Minister of Finance and Budget as separate from the National Planning Commissionshould be restored and the latter headed by a high-end development economist. The same goes for the office of the economic adviser to the President. And this automatically snowballs into the appointment of the secretary to the government of the federation which, though political, should fulfil high-end technocratic competence criteria, as that is an office that is critical for policy management coordination and overall government programmesperformance tracking and sundry performance management collaboratives with the National Planning Commission and MDAs.

Five other appointments are key for me. The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF) must be a core new generation public manager that possesses the administrative credentials that can motivate the productivity machineries of the MDAs into a performance curve. Whoever handles the Labour and Productivity ministry must have deep knowledge of industrial relations and national productivity assumptions, given the macroeconomic and multi-sectoral nature of the the relationship between labour administration and national productivity. The same goes for who eventually becomes the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, a ministry that has the capacity to mediate Nigeria’s integration into the knowledge economy and the fourth industrial revolution. I am very concerned with who gets appointed as the director-general of the Bureau of Statistics; someone who understands the roles that a vibrant data culture play in national development planning and management, and who is not ready to play the politics of fabricating facts and figures. And lastly, the Minister of Information must be discerning and foresighted enough to see the office as the hub of strategic communication, national resilience and national orientation. These are by no means exhaustive, but simply indicative.

The journey of four administrative years in strategic governance and statecraft is about to commence. The first few steps matter for an administration with lots of burdens and skepticism.

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