By Tunji Olaopa
The concept of destiny is one that is very charged, philosophically. Within the Yoruba cultural context, it is one of those concepts that does not avail one of any easy answer. But I am not entering into any philosophical discourse in this piece, even though there are those who strongly believed that Nigeria is doomed to keep repeating the errors of history that have led us to a political and developmental cul de sac. Those who hold this view have their arguments. One of these is that since independence, Nigeria has not yielded to any workable paradigm or blueprint that could serve as a way out of her postcolonial predicaments or as a template to benchmark one. And each successive government, since 1960, has always been left with a sour taste of governance failure that leaves Nigerian gasping for breath in existential pain.
But then, I doubt that the political pessimists about Nigeria and her future wellbeing can hold on to the argument of a Nigerian state locked in the grip of cosmic negative predestination.I am not a political pessimist. On the contrary, my entire trajectory of political maturation and consciousness has been targeted at understanding the possibilities of Nigeria becoming a great nation. And this is why I am very excited at the unfolding of new possibilities that the new administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu signifies. As I narrated in my memoir—The Unending Quest for Reform—a significant dimension of my intellectual and reform journey has been dedicated to building a corpus of administrative and governance repertoire that a good administration can tap into for the task of rebuilding the Nigerian state institutionally and managerially.
Before 1979, my politically innocent mind idolized the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who were both grounded in mythical robes for their political sagacity and adventures in the attempt to build Nigeria. It was not until I started studying politics actively at the university that I began to seriously consider the possible pathways by which the Nigerian state could shake off its colonial baggage and take a firmer foothold in the lives of Nigerians. For instance, while in graduate school at the University of Ibadan, I was able to make up my mind, through rigorous and discursive intellectual engagements around politics and political economy, about the possibility of a class-instigated Marxist revolution in Nigeria. And my realization was simple: a Marxist revolution is a remote possibility, if ever, since I figured that the nationalist movement that galvanized the struggle for independence was not founded on a real revolutionary ferment motivated by class struggle.
A new narrative was therefore required to understand Nigeria’s postcolonial political economy and quest for national integration and development. I switched my focus to an attempt to understand the political gladiators, like Awolowo and the imperative of leadership in molding governance philosophy and institutional rehabilitation. For instance, I have been fascinated with how a political juggernaut like Awolowo failed, for example, to break through the stranglehold of his Yoruba ethnic identity into general acceptance as a national leader. And from this perspective, one will find it difficult not to be curious about the political status and credentials of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and his capacity to maneuver round the realpolitik, keeping his Yoruba identity while making himself acceptable to the Hausa-Fulani. With Chief M.K.O. Abiola, we had a sense of what pan-Nigeriana would have looked like in political history. Unfortunately, Abiola also succumbed to the imperatives of the politics that the nation keeps playing with her destiny as realpolitik.
From all this, only one possibility has suggested itself to me: a national leader that must break through the confounding and limiting stranglehold of ethno-religious identity and complexities must be someone who cannot be “normal” in the ways that successive national leaders and political elites have been. Such a leader must have, in amanner of speaking, dined with the devil while, in equal measure, have the backing of Providence! It is essentially this specific interest in the dynamics of Nigeria’s political class to birth national unity, and the search for the essence of a national leader that inserted the figure of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu into my research framework. This is a political elite that emerged within the crucible of identity and democratic politics in Nigeria’s postcolonial political landscape. And he has been on the ascendancy, especially through his undeniable successes as the governor of Lagos State, and the godfather par excellence.
I suspect that it is only political blindness that will detract anyone from giving Bola Ahmed Tinubu his due in the transformation of Lagos State from “a symbol of urban disorder to a widely cited example of effective African governance,” as a researcher puts it. From taxation to basic infrastructure, and from improved law enforcement to expanded public service, Tinubu’s Lagos State became a significant example of governance and reform initiatives that provide an elaborate example of how elite ambitions can become a gamble on development. No one can doubt that Tinubu gambled on development in Lagos State through a masterly deployment of the strengths of visioning, strategic planning, succession pipelining, and grassroots politics with a large dose of subsidiarity.
But then, Lagos State is definitely not Nigeria (even though a lot of the strategic elements of transformation are imperative in turning a state or a country around). The Tinubu presidency is inheriting a country that is more divisive than when the democratic experiment commenced in 1999, with lots of discontents everywhere—insecurity, youth restiveness, banditry and institutional instability. Tinubu’s appointment with destiny must commence by a deliberate acquisition of the slogan that possesses more utility than it was allowed: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Functioning within this framework of detached effectiveness will allow President Tinubu to not only become the president of all Nigerians. It will also appropriate a charismatic stature that will enable him institute a change space filled with high-end talents and competences—his first-eleven governance team—drawn up from everywhere and anywhere across Nigeria without prejudice to ethnicity, religion or political patronage.
Outside of all political and emotional euphoria, Nigerians want to see governance performance. And this is utterly impossible outside of governance and institutional reforms. Thus, this must be an administration that will place a fundamental emphasis on the value of a results-based managerial system with a performance-managed backend. It is non-negotiable, for instance, that the Tinubu administration must invest in the establishment of a special purpose vehicle-type flexible-membership presidential council on governanceand institutional reform with the strict mandate to facilitate the implementation of public service reform blueprints while putting the entire government development agenda on a performance template. And the idea of a reform implementation council implies that this cannot be achieved by hanging on to the administrative acumen of a single person with the capacity to maneuver the dangerous and murky waters of political and elite interests that often circumscribe policy successes. This is one historical error that accounts for the “motion without movement” that undermine the successes of past reform initiatives.
The Tinubu administration cannot begin to lay a solid foundation for a new productivity profile for Nigeria based on an overall development performance if it fails, ab initio, to initiate a redefinition of the fundamental role of the state and the market in the development process. This redefinition comes with a large dose of ideological determination to insert vision and strategies in making Nigeria work. This ideological vision is what will undergird the attention that will go to the MDAs’ capability readiness and the unbundling of their service delivery functions along the ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ components, all with a view to being deliberate in engineering performance. The presidential council therefore becomes the president’s strategic means of pushing the reforms that opens up and map the public service space to enable a system-wide reform transformation with multiplier’s effects on the MDAs. The council will not only requirehigh-end reform-minded professionals, but also some internal governance strategies, like the appointment of an external co-chair whose responsibility is to ensure neutrality that is needed to drive the change management for performance traction. The council’s modus operandi will be founded on a performance management metrics that put cabinet members on their toes through performance agreements and contracts meant to motivate productivity.
The Tinubu presidency must be ready to reprofile the Federal Executive Council that transcends its accustomed status of being a mere statutory meeting dedicated to contract approvals. On the contrary, the FEC must exercise its capability for strategic policy reviews and assessments that track government’s policy architecture and governance progress through data-rooted quarterly special FEC sessions dedicated to evaluation and feedbacks that government immediately intervenes with. Such a reprofiled FEC will then give birth to a more proactive periodic State of the Union presidential address that is grounded in strategic communication dynamics meant to engage the citizens.
It is from this perspective of committed reform that I am expecting the governance revolution to come from. This is definitely nothing new for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He had once braved the fiery furnace of governance in the complex space of Lagos State. With Nigeria, we are talking about an economy of scale that is definitely daunting but not impossible to transform. Governing Nigeria demands that tougher decisions will have to be made. And I have no doubt that President Tinubu is no stranger to making decisions that will bode well for Nigerians.
*Tunji Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, is a Professor at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State.