Saturday, September 23, 2023 7:38 pm
It is significant that the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) decided to connect the theme of its 2023 annual conference to a critical issue that is so very relevant to national discourse at this time. And, at that, through a clarion call on Nigerian professionals to join Nigeria’s march towards renewal of hope in her potentials and possibility as a rekindled national policy commitment. Indeed, there is no better time to sound the alarm to all Nigerian core stakeholder that all hands must be on deck to push Nigeria away from the precipice and unto a renewed progress towards a more reassuring national emancipation. And which coalition of champions in Nigeria is more qualified than the association of professional bodies, to stand in the forefront of the collective attempt to take Nigeria seriously and rescue her failing efforts?
Did Tom McCall, the former Governor of Oregon in the US, not once posit that “Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community (my country), and its my responsibility to make it better.” And to John Updike, the American novelist “To be professional is to be dependable, to be dependable is to be predictable …” Even though he considers dependability and predictability to be boring virtues in art, they are virtues that are sorely needed, more than ever before, in the urgent and pressing need to transform the Nigerian state. That said, I then like to say that the trajectory of this keynote will be historical and critical, with deep implications for the reform of the Nigerian development agenda and policy architecture, through the critical inputs that I consider should be the responsibility of professionals and professional bodies as one of the core of national elites that the transformation of Nigeria sorely needs to regain a more reassuring future and her place with destiny
Background: Hope and Cynicism in Contention: Diagnosing the Nigerian Predicament
This annual conferenceis coming at a most auspicious period when Nigeria seems to be hanging in the balance. Indeed, it is a time when hope and hopelessness, cynicism and patriotism are jostling for space in the minds of Nigerians. It is a moment when the experiences of Nigeria as a nation-state – our sixty-three-year experience of statehood and underdevelopment – demands that Nigerians remain pessimistic as wisdom. I say wisdom, so, they are not fooled by overhyped expectations again, and like musical chair, witness another round of agony of defeating frustration as a people. Yet, a part of our hearts,as Nigerians, is nonetheless open (as hope) to enter into the dreamworld again, dreaming about the possibility of a transformed governance system (reminiscent of the imaginary Utopia that American Marvel Comics graphically depicted in Black Panther: The Kingdom of Wakanda), a possible prospective view of a new Nigeria that will make lives worth living, and by that, make Nigeria a great nation within the grand vision and agenda of president Tinubu’s Renewed Hope
And as it is, in the theatrics of the jostling of hope and hopelessness, cynicism and patriotism, Nigeria is caught in a state of collective agitation. And to parody the Shakespearean Hamlet, Nigerians are agitated by a hanging question: ‘is Nigeria to be or not to be?’ That of course is a rhetorical question that only time will answer. But the Nigeria’s predicaments that the question encapsulate are numerous and complex. And we need some sense of what they are, however tentative, in order to be able to get a grip of what their resolution will look like
As a governance and institutional reformer, what ails Nigeria seems pretty obvious to me. There are interconnected diagnostic points where I have located the Nigeria’s complex predicament. The first concerns the pervasive and endemic rentier and predatory political culture that has encroached into the entire fabric of our social life. Political offices are instrumentalized for private useswith an alacrity that has perpetually spelt the death of patriotism and nationalism – the yearning desire to do something for one’s country. Arising from this is the second fundamental source of Nigeria’s predicament, inherent in a national elite and a political class that have lost their nationalist mandate of guiding the Nigerian state through its transformational path towards progress. We lack that core of national elite with the guiding force of ideological vision of what the Nigerian nation should be. It is this measure of ideological emptiness that is evident in Nigeria’s party politics, where it is pretty easier for a politician to move from one party to another than to renew international passport. The same sense in which none of the political parties has an ideological framework with sufficient philosophical construct regarding the Nigeria of the future that they can commit to build
This for me is the diagnostic understanding of why Nigeria is where she is at the moment: there is no philosophical construct or ideological framework that provides the blueprint of interconnected variables and constants around which Nigeria’s past, present and future reckoning would have been outlined and calibrated. As it were, therefore, successive governments; from 1966 to date have only been meandering within a nebulous space; trying to make sense of local agitations, national complexities and global conditionalities. At home, no government has been able to make sense of the national project of integrating Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities into a civic nationalism that privileges the collective over the primordial. And within the political economy of global relations,Nigeria is caught flat within the ideological squeeze of the neoliberal hegemony and its economic conditionalities that ensure that the country dances to the tunes called by the Bretton Wood orthodoxy and its gatekeepers – the World Bank and the IMF
Elite Nationalism and the Prosperity of Nations
In the political science literature and elite theory, development visioning and progress assumes that the elite or the political class in any society possesses the best in terms of the political wisdom and competence to be at the vanguard of navigating the ship of the affairs of the political community. And when we reference the distinguishing figures in world history: the likes of Thomas Paine and the incidence of the American Revolution; the philosophers or public intellectuals that made the French Revolution a reality – the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Claude Helvetius, etc.; Nelson Mandela and the dismantling of the apartheid system in S. Africa; Lee Kwan Yew and the great transformation of the Singaporean dream, and so on
Then we come to terms with the basis of the arguments pushed by Acemoglu and Robinson in Why Nations Fail (2013). That the difference between the prosperity and the poverty of nations depends essentially on the decision-making quotient of the political class and the question of whether the public institutions undergirding the dynamics are extractive or inclusive institutions. The issue is critically about “how decisions actually get made, who gets to make them, and why those people decide to do what they do.” In other words, do the decisions made by the political class lead to the emergence of extractive or inclusive institutions? When power is directed towards the personal benefits of the elites, what is created are extractive institutions. When the end of power is the collective benefit of the society, we have inclusiveinstitutions.
So, what Potentials and Options are there to Build a Better Nigeria?
The theoretical framework in the foregoing enables us to properly situate the role of the political class in the ongoing democratic struggles to transform Nigeria. And the starting point is to ask the question: is there a path taken by the political elites in Singapore and the Asian Tigers, or in Brazil, or in Botswana, or better still, in the UAE, etc. that Nigeria failed to take? Is this not the same path that the Nigerian political elites took in the years after independence? No one can deny the enormous nation-building efforts of the founding nationalists of the Nigerian state – Bello, Azikiwe and Awolowo, and many others. After the initial hiccup of post-independence Nigeria, regionalism became the arrowhead for an unparalleled developmental impulse that saw the three regions on a spree of economic competition that demonstrated their comparative advantage
But what have we witnessed ever since? The narrative of development has thereafter become one of perpetual transitioning in quantum paces that never added up to any critical boiling point that could crystallize into genuine national transformation. And today, the evidences are right there before our eyes – globally acclaimed multidimensional poverty status of the poverty capital of the world, human development failure, brutal insecurity, endemic unemployment, and all, that reveals the blatant complicity of the political elites in the impoverishment of Nigerians
If a Better Nigerian Society must Emerge!!!
First, the Nigerian elite will go very close to committing class suicide in a manner of speaking. What do I mean? This will be in the service of their commitment to a new type of politics and institutionalism that rates the citizens higher than selfish interest. I can bet that the audience is already mumming why I am pushing for such idealistic and outlier idea? The idea merely restates in some other words the imperative need for committed leadership provided by a new breed of political elites (a secular version of being ‘born again’ in a manner of speaking). One who instinctively understand what is requires to make Nigeria great; not as saints but as patriots that are committed in truth and in spirit. Such leadership will work with an ideologically framed blueprint of progress
And at the very heart of such blueprint is a vision and strategy for building an active citizenship in all Nigerians; a kind of citizenship that encourages individuals to work beyond their personal interests in deliberation and action;one that mandates them to take their civic responsibility seriously – as common national aspiration that the political leadership is trusted in all its actions to achieve
The Elites Have Few Options Left!
And this would be a compulsive commitment for the elites to make because they have few options left. First, the Nigerian state had almost gone bankrupt in resource terms if accrual from oil revenue is assumed as financial buffer to perpetually squander like the prodigal nation that we are. Two, if the elites refuse to let go the hubris of greed and unbridled accumulation and be solution-focused and ingenious at that, political experience also reveals that there is always a breaking point where the people will be more than willing to reject their shackles and suffering
The convulsive rebellion that characterized the Arab Spring. The widespread revolt by the #EndSARS protesters and the unraveling coup d’état in the Sahel, is an indication that good governance is always better than the horrors of revolts and revolutions that are not always determinate
Government of National Competence and the Imperative need for Professional Bodies Institutional Rediscovery
And this brings back the idea of president Tinubu on government of national competence. The idea behind the construct, as I see it, is the imperative need to institutionalize a change space in the government arena. One that allows the conversion of elite competences, professionalism and privileges into a formidable change management framework. And one at that, that pushes the boundaries of policy transformation in the service of a developmental agenda. And in so far as such change space requires new breed of leaders and change agents, it brings me to a convenient point on how Nigeria’s professionals and professional bodies can make their entry into the redemptive attempt to transform the Nigerian state. And I askwho is a Professional?
The place to start our inquiry into how professionals can be mobilized to salvage the governance space and the policy arena is with a fundamental question: who is a professional?In my public service institutional reform model, there is the idea of the need to emerge, a generation of “new professionals” imbued with a mix of patriotism, professionalism and honour. With my reform inquiries into the nature, status and capacity of the new professional managers therefore,automatically ties in with APBN’s objective of making Nigeria’s professionals a relevant fulcrum in transforming Nigeria’s policy architecture through policy intelligence and action research
If we excavate the conceptual issues of what makes anyone a professional, we come to the defining essence of the professional as being involved in a vocation – a calling that stands the professional out from any other possible occupation. In other words, being a professional demand more from the person so-called. It demands service as a spiritual endeavor. I have used “spirituality” in professional service to represent a search for meaning and value that connect the professional deeply to others and to humanity. Such spirituality would encompass other notions as i) a call to integrity; ii) a search for meaning within a bigger picture that drives one to seek for solutions to problems, and iii) connection with the goal of the higher calling as touching a professional’s responsibility as patriot
Professionals as Change Agent in the Dynamics of Nation-Building
And now we arrive at the critical issue of facilitating more organized, systematic and institutionalized inputs as professional collectives in policy articulation and proactive activism. This cannot be a task that can be taken for granted as if it is a foregone conclusion. And the expansion of the space of governance to enable such other non-state actors as think tanks, scholars, intellectuals, consultants, and other professionals, to inject the policy space with fresh technocratic and expert presence and with ideas, is still an evolving model
And this is where the issue becomes rather complicated: the cohabitation of bureaucrats and professionals from other sectors of the economy has historically been a charged relationship. There are two reasons that contribute to this tension. First, bureaucrats, in an attempt to monitor their space, want to subject all perceived outsiders and interlopers—technocrats, subject specialists, policy experts, advisers, and other professionals—to their understanding of technical rationalism—the administrative governing framework made up of public service rules, procedures and guidelines that circumscribe the policy management processes. But then, second, the bureaucrats themselves must be brought under the accountability imperatives demanded by democratic governance.
Thus, no matter how unique the bureaucrats see their policy space and want to protect its sanctity, they can no longer be left alone to police such a space. The input of non-bureaucrats and professionals are now critically required. There is a managerial and democratic imperative to enlarge the policy space for a better grasp on good governance and the policy intelligence that will lead to it. And most gratefully, this is where the task of the APBN is already cut out for it as the institutional and organizational framework around which is built not only the navigation of the policy space but also the coordination of the governance space in ways that will yield the ultimate policy objectives and experiences.
I see this as the redemptive task for national rehabilitation of the APBN beyond its usual organizational remits and objectives. Building a strong, capable and efficient institution that will backstop the governance of a developmental state in Nigeria is necessarily a joint venture where Nigerian professionals through the APBN play a pivotal role. I will now outline a few critical issues for consideration
Action Points, Going Forward
The first urgent issue I see is the need to concretize, programmatize and make more robust and institutional the public-private partnership initiative which have not yet taken firm roots in Nigeria’s governance space. This is a key issue in administrative and institutional reform that is already a solid global best practice. The point here is that going forward, the public sector must fundamentally improve its systems for managing commercially-centered partnerships while building significant national capacity and capability upgrades in the management of complex projects
In terms of harnessing PPPs for national infrastructural development, it would entail getting Nigeria to move up to the 2nd and 3rd levels of PPPs maturity curve as documented in the literature. Indeed, is evidently trapped at the 1st level suggesting that the country has not built PPPs governance capability sufficiently for a) regulatory effectiveness, b) manage PPP projects end-to-end to achieve win-win commercial success, and c) with respect to the program management capacities of procuring entities that manage the contractual structure that govern PPPs
And these global good practices need to reference and take inspiration from in terms of public private sectors partnership in public sector capability upgrades. The experiences of Britain and the Asian Tigers come in handy in this regard. Under the focused leadership of Margret Thatcher, Sir Derek Rayner, the CEO of Mark and Spencer, was brought in from the private sector to investigate government inefficiencies and over-bloated services. The result was mind-blowing. After ninety multi-departmental reviews and 266 scrutinies, over 600 million pounds were saved, and more than 16000 posts were removed.
Japan transformed her post-war economy through the significant introduction of the keiretsu principle that brought the organized private sector—manufacturers, suppliers, bankers, industries and so on—around a unique dynamic of economic cooperation, further strengthened by the introduction of experts with deep understanding of the relationship between economic growth, development, productivity and performance. This is where Edward Deming and the total quality management framework led to: (a) better design of products to improve service; (b) higher level of uniform product quality; (c) improvement of product testing in the workplace and in research centres; and (d) greater sales through global markets.This will involve a spirited effort on the part of APBN to converge other professional associations and establish shared learning platforms that will have two objectives. The first is to explore ways of enhancing more institutional partnership that will strengthen the PPP.
The second is a gradual move to achieve a coherent framework that allows the relationship between corporate governance principles that the professional bodies will be bringing to the table and the public service rules of the public service.The final task I see as crucially imperative is the joint effort that will constitute a concerted contribution to the objective of a national productivity movement. The APBN cannot afford to be oblivious of the current and abysmally low productivity profile of the Nigerian stateand how that has compromised Nigeria’s governance and development planning. This is a crucial point where the APBN joins the leadership matrix and makes an entry point into the change space as part of the coalition of the political, bureaucratic and professional class needed to articulate the visionary, creative and strategic intelligence required to achieve the paradigm shift in productivity thinking and transformation.
In this lecture, I have made some simple but fundamental arguments. One, elite theory is a critical platform for engineering Nigeria’s good governance and national integration objectives. Two, the elite condition of the Nigerian state is dismal and to become strategic, the political class needed to commit class suicide. Three, this rethinking of elite imperatives includes, on the one hand, the formation of a strategic change space that possesses multi-level leadership dynamics; and on the other facilitate the incursion of professionals and other non-state actors and players. Four, the APBN need to take up the challenge of jumpstarting a critical conversation and engagement with the public service and the government over the enhancement of the governance spaceand other critical policy imperatives like the public-private partnership and the national productivity movement Nigeria needs to become a global development player.
*Lecture by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, retired Federal permanent secretary and EVC, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy – ISGPP – as Keynote Speaker at the 2023 Annual Workshop of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) which held at Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja on 12-13 September, 2023