Saturday, June 10, 2023 3:20 pm
Almost all Nigerians, as well as Nigeria’s political class, recognize that Nigeria is a great country; a land of tremendous resources and opportunities. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the human and non-human resources are sufficient to catapult Nigeria into the top echelon of industrialized countries of the world. What is galling is how such a blessed country could fall prey to the resource curse and the Dutch disease—the paradox of how the opportunity of large oil reserves and a most significant youth bulge eventually turned into a source of harm for the country’s economy, future prospect and the well-being of Nigerians. This is the Nigerian condition that has prevented Nigeria from engaging with her manifest destiny of national transformation that also changes the quality of life of Nigerians.
The success or failure of governing the Nigerian state therefore rides on the capacity of the policy architecture of any administration to first duly take full note of the critical elements that conduces to the achievement of good governance. Within the Nigerian governance context, no government can ever hope to succeed if it fails to take cognizance of the landmines that have prevented previous administrations from making a full proof of their stewardship to Nigerians. One significant lesson from the previous attempts at getting good governance right, from independence, is that we have now been provided with a framework of landmines that should serve as the change management triggers any new administration requires as imperatives for transforming the governance landscape in Nigeria.
What then are the critical landmines that ought to be the focus of focused change management of the Tinubu administration in the next four years?
Diversity management and governance inclusion
One of the toughest predicaments that defines Nigeria’s postcolonial situation is her plural existence. Indeed, the federal arrangement was conceived as the most fundamental governance framework within which Nigeria’s diversities could be managed successfully. Unfortunately, and since independent, federalism in Nigeria has remained disenabling as a governance framework for managing diversity and running an inclusive governance. And indeed, the federal character principle, that ought to be an ingenious institutional means by which Nigeria could facilitate the national integration of her ethnic constituents, has become an opportunity cost for meritocracy and efficiency in institutional and performance terms.
What is to be done? Two crucial things are wrong with the implementation of the policy. One is the evident lack of definite guideline to balance between equity and efficiency in the application of the principle. Second, there is the absence of the requisite political will to compel its proper application within a national competency cum performance management and human capital development framework. The truth is that the federal character policy could be better managed to be more functional, meritocratic and therefore developmental. And this can be done through the development of an innovative implementation guideline to facilitate institutional restraints and accountability framework of checks and balances for the policy.
Restructuring and economic competitiveness
Nigeria’s unitary federalism—that strange contraption—kills all regional and local economic initiatives in the name of centralized planning and policy orientation that stifle all federating units of their potentials and comparative advantages. The implication of this is that the constitutional protocols that strangulate economic competitiveness ensure that all policy efforts directed at achieving national economic growth and development will keep draining out the basket of unitarism. The discovery of crude oil in 1962 reinforced the lopsided federal arrangement into a false sense of federal well-being sustained by oil wealth.
What to do? Restructuring the Nigerian federation cannot be seen beyond achieving the federal values of fiscal autonomy, regionalism and resource control. Regionalism essentially allows the six geopolitical zones the economic liberty to explore and exploit their economic and comparative advantages in ways that foster economic competitiveness that conduce to the development agenda of the Nigerian state. This is already the direction that the southwest has been towing, beginning with the western region of Obafemi Awolowo and extending to the economic cooperation among the southwestern states.
Local government and governance
To underscore the fundamental significance of federalism to Nigeria’s predicament, we confront the third critical dimension to the lopsided federal arrangement—the debilitation of local governance as the gateway to grassroots development and democratic participation. The constitutional powers that ought to be shared at the three levels of government—federal, state and local—have been exclusively arrogated to the federal government all alone. The federal government emasculate the state government which in turn also reduces, to the point of near invisibility, the local government. In the end, almost all federal policy initiatives fail to make any significant impact on the local populace, hence the deep level at which Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. This is also complemented negatively by the governance practices of the states that starve the local governments of necessary funding.
What to do? Local governance—through the enhancement of community participation and the utilization of social capital and the principle of subsidiarity—serves as the avenue for poverty reduction, rural development and the grassroots consolidation of democratic governance. The Tinubu administration has a really great opportunity of harnessing traditional structures and loci of authorities to facilitate the harnessing of grassroots support for rural development that triangulate the three tiers of government for a holistic development. The OPTICOM—optimum community—experiment is one tried and tested framework that the new administration can invest in nationwide, for effective grassroots development through getting communities to organize themselves for the mobilization and effective management of community resources. Indeed, real development is visible only when the enormous primary wealth of the grassroots is transformed into second and third order categories of wealth, through industrial processing and value chain activities,
Public service reform and the role of the state
From the inauguration of the Nigerian state in 1954 to date, successive Nigerian government has invested heavily in the public service and its reform. This investment derives from the axiomatic imperative that the public service is not only the human face of the state, but also the governance mechanism of the government. No government will ever succeed outside of a functional, optimal and efficient public service. However, and explicitly due to the near absence of a focused political will, most of the public service reforms have been compromised by limited successes and lots of damaged control. Most significantly, the Nigerian government has not been able to redefine the role that the state is supposed to play in the understanding of the efficiency of the public service in national development.
What is fundamental is that the Tinubu government must energetically invest in the reform of the public service as the fundamental statement concerning its buy-in into the idea of the developmental state. The Nigerian state cannot become developmental if it fails to reform the institutional capability readiness of the Nigerian public service to deliver on essential public goods. Contrary to the recommendation of the New Public Management and the global reform institutions, the Tinubu government needs an ideological framework from which to resist the neoliberal orthodoxy of privation and liberalization, as well as the onslaught of Chinese imperialism. The developmental state ideology serves such a purpose. It is from this perspective that the Asian Tigers made their significant developmental leap into the future.
Meritocracy and national governance model
In implementing the Nigerianization Policy, the national elites were caught in the grip of the tension between meritocracy and representativeness as the organizing principle for recruitment into the federal civil service. Representativeness triumphed over merit, and that calculated choice became the source of many of the woes of the civil service, especially the loss of efficiency due to a bloated and pathological workforce. The 1975 downsizing of the civil service further compounded the predicament through the introduction of massive patrimonialism and instant gratification. Realpolitik insists that patronage becomes the dynamic for jumpstarting governance rather than merit and competence.
President Tinubu must see immediately that a patronage system that rewards political cronies who lacked the appropriate merit to handle critical positions and sectors will be a critical landmine that explodes the possibilities of progress. Merit and meritocracy ensure that round pegs go into round hole. The administration’s first eleven team must be measured against a performance framework that matches each ministry, department and agency against a cascading level of objectives that reinforce the national development agenda. This demand the institution of a cultural adjustment programme that articulate a governance model that eschew the business-as-usual modality for a more productive and productivity-propelled modality for making government work for Nigerians.
Adversarial versus democratic industrial relations
The national objective of a productivity paradigm shift is a significant background to the development agenda of any Nigerian government. The objective of national productivity derives from the need to achieve a high volume of qualitative output with least expenditure of resources. In Nigeria, the challenge of productivity manifests in three ways. One, there is a critical challenge of harnessing resource efficiency in ways that accelerate economic growth. Two, there is the challenge of balancing the rate of investment with the return on that investment. There is also a patent low marginal productivity of labor arising from the average output of the workforce in Nigeria. And this is in spite of the fact that labour productivity does not sum up national productivity. And lastly, there is an adversarial and militancy-propelled labour unionism that eschew complementary labor relations for the maximization of social and public goods, and instead undermine the capacity of the government to achieve labor productivity.
The goal therefore is to translate this adversarial labor relations to a democratic industrial relation that enables trade unions and the government to see eye-to-eye on industrial matters in ways that enhance productivity. An alternative paradigm of industrial relations reorganizes the bargaining dynamics away from its perception as a do-or-die affair to one which focuses on the shared interests of the participants who essentially become social partners rather than enemies. This ‘soft’ approach to collective bargaining is called the interest-based bargaining (or alternatively: a win-win bargaining; integrative bargaining or principled negotiation) managed within a technical-rational rather than militancy-propelled a-developmental radicalism.
Politics and the party system
From the experiences of the recent electoral experiment, it became clear that Nigeria’s party system still has a long way to go in terms of internal mechanisms and how that throw up candidates with sufficient democratic clout to win elections. A bigger issue is the absence of an ideological frameworks around which parties could come to a governance philosophy which is meant to orient the direction of policy designs and implementation.
The party system in Nigeria needs to be insinuated into a democratic framework. And this requires a legislation that facilitates the emergence of internal democratic dynamics by which candidates will emerge and what ideological frame a party would operate in.
Anti-corruption and national integrity system
Corruption, both political and bureaucratic, has remained the bane of governance success in Nigeria since independence. The difficulty of achieving infrastructural development, for instance, has its source in a corrupt system that undermine the translation of budgetary allocation int quality infrastructure. There is also the challenge of institutional redundancies and waste that allow scarce resources to be funneled into unproductive projects.
The Tinubu administration needs anti-corruption agencies that must do better than all the preceding ones established by other governments. This will require legislations that will firm up the political will to ameliorate corruption in all forms within the governance space of the Nigerian society. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)/ICPC et almust be legally empowered and institutionally reformed to achieve more in terms of institutional strengthening to foreclose systemic leakages that incentivize corrupt practices, as part of the building of national integrity system to reinforce the detection and prosecution of financial offenders, from serving ministers to executives.
There is a tendency for the government to see these policy landmines as obvious given that some of these issues have been at the front burner of the governance efforts by succeeding governments to ensure that governance becomes good for Nigerians. But the difference that the Tinubu government needs to make derives from the realization that the devil is always in the details of how these policy landmines and issues are treated and the amount of political will that any government is willing to invest in the process of making these policies see the light of day. The political will of the new administration must be directed not only towards doing the right thing but doing the right thing right.
*Tunji Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, is a Professor at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State.