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Long Trek To Canaan: Thoughts On Reforms - Our Land

07 June 2012

By Abdul-Warees Solanke 

There comes a time in the life of any nation desirous of change, progress and development that difficult choices and decisions have to be made. This definitely is the time for us in Nigeria. But that choice or decision is not for the government or the leadership alone to make. While the buck may stop at the desk of the leader, whatever choice or decision he makes in the final analysis, is still subject to citizens' approval and support. For us in Nigeria, the challenge is not really of economic dimension, even though it seems most manifest in the dismal macroeconomic indices of productivity, employment, savings, investment and consumption. Our real challenge can be located within the structure of our polity which invariably determines the color of our politics dictates the nature of our governance and affects the stability of our economy.   

The issue is: we have not outlived the politics of prebendalism in our land as we still grapple with foundational elements of nation building crisis. The attendant rejection of the removal of fuel subsidy by many interest groups are pointers to the weakness of our national cohesion, when the dominant themes of discourses in the press and the airwaves have been national restructuring, marginalization, corruption and other negativities that compromise national growth and development. In this scenario, no matter how sincere or well intentioned a leader or government may be in any reform initiative, the initiative will still be a victim of circumstance.

The combination of the structure of our polity, colour of our politics and fibre of our governance has so far been dictating how various stakeholders within and outside government support, validate and implement reform projects and policies in the country. This combination qualifies the aggregation of the elites, the bureaucrats and technocrats, the labour movement, the mass media and other interest groups on policy issues we have to address as a nation. This being so, our nation is usually constrained, whenever any reform project is to be embarked upon, in the process of decision making, the constituent of participants, the sincerity of advisers, the range and rationality of choices and alternatives  and the quality and acceptability of decision.

This time, we cannot afford not to get the fuel subsidy issue right. It will diminish our status as the African leader and question our legitimacy to intervene in the problems of other African nations. First, the courage of the government in admitting that some hanky-panky and corruption does exist in subsidizing fuel importation and addressing the critical issue of deregulating the downstream sector of the petroleum industry is very salutary. Rationally, the solution is to break the backbone of the cabal responsible for the economic leakage, and one way of demobilizing the subsidy suckers is to create very strong disincentives and deterrence to the endemic corruption in the fuel importation business by deregulating the downstream sector where most of the game is played.

However, does this address the foundational elements that are only manifesting in the economic realm? In this context, we need to raise a dozen questions germane to achieving success in our reform projects.

What development must INSPIRE our government? Our post-independence experiences at policy and reform projects suggest that we are almost always responding to crises as the structure and forms of governments that have dominated our history have largely being dictated by emergencies and political misadventures. Therefore, our policies and programmes, even if they were genuine, were not been enduring. Today, we are certainly in another economic emergency. The logic here is if emergency management has not yielded for us sustainability, we must return to long-term and long range planning. My take on this is that for every reform project in our country, we must draw inspiration from countries with similar national experiences and best practices in governance. Brazil, India and China are good case studies for us just as we have some fine lessons in reforms from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

What policy must we INITIATE? At any point in time and in every situation, our concern must be delivering policies and programmes that ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, with least compliance lethargy. This entails rigorous identification and analysis of issues and problems, real, extant or potential. Again, this demands foresight and sensitivity from the government. Therefore, we must be interested in the likely responses to reform initiatives by employing all rational and behavioural analytic tools in our predictions on outcomes.

Who must we INVOLVE? Critical to the success of any reform project is the support and legitimacy of all stakeholders and interest groups, beneficiaries or victims. Without consultation, engagement and collaboration with those to be affected, programmes and reform initiatives are justifiably misconstrued, opposed and rejected or they suffer apathy and indifference even from the intended beneficiaries. Strategic communication, wide consultation and close collaboration are necessary to carry all along and at best limit obstacles to pushing through.

 What framework must we INSTITUTE?  In consideration of reform initiatives, experts and officials are bordered by how well or how soon a programme will yield the desired result. Such result is measured by the efficiency, effectiveness, economy and the impact of the tools and strategies adopted in the implementation process to push through the reform project. Since most reforms are bitter, painful and unusual, they are necessarily prone to rejection. Therefore, the framework that is best suited to preventing policy shock and glut is one that gives room for learning, coping and adjustment by those likely to be affected and those implementing the policies as realities on the field may alter projections in the plan. Denoted as incrementalism, such framework gives room for manoeuvring and building on experience to correct mistakes. On the strength of these questions, we can probe further other specific questions that should guide our reform and transformation agenda.

The  first question setting the trend of my observations, what must development must inspire our government has a corollary in the following question: Who must our government INSPIRE? Evidently, our government must inspire the entire citizenry by the quality of leadership provided (visionary, responsive and transformational). In practical terms therefore, our government must, through the services it provides, the incentives and opportunities it creates for the stimulation of growth, real employment and productivity inspire in the citizenry the readiness for trust, partnership and collaboration. It must inspire the entire citizenry through the cost, sacrifices and denials seen in our leaders. Those visible incentives, sacrifices and denials ultimately result in to savings for us, leading to the next question.

In what must we INVEST? The answer is in everyday discourse, but which we have been rather slow to address as we engage in conspicuous consumption while enhancing productivity and improving employment in other countries. We must necessarily invest in infrastructure and human capacity development for us to be competitive in today knowledge economy. However, it is not sufficient to provide the infrastructure and develop human capacity without establishing effective and efficient legal and regulatory frameworks that will ensure sound, equitable and judicious distribution, utilization maintenance and management of those physical and human capital that are our national assets. Without this mentality, our investment will only be fragmental, misaligned and wasteful. We must prevent the mistakes of the past in our culture of public management.

Who must we INVITE? The reality of public management and provision of public goods and services suggests that big government is no longer suitable to achieving result while government cannot do it alone. Gone are the days that economies of scale are predictably positive and manageable and public needs limited. The bigger the size of government, the more elaborate the hierarchy and processes and the more cumbersome, wasteful and costlier in getting things done in public interest. The option for our government is to relinquish those areas of less national strategic importance and seek partnership and collaboration with private sector providers and foreign investors with requisite expertise and financial strength, and whose stake in the our economy transcends profit but includes a commitment to national growth and development.

What must we INCREASE? This question relates to what we produce with our human capital assets and in which we have comparative advantage. Our experts and technocrats in various analyses presented facts that clearly suggest that even though we are classified among the oil-rich nations, we are still oil-impoverished per capita when compared with many other OPEC members whose production capacity outweighs ours in spite of their lesser population. A resource whose production process, distribution and marketing does not engage a substantial percentage of our population and does not guarantee us much comparative advantage in the world economy cannot be said to be in our ultimate interest. The paradox of oil production and dependence in Nigeria is that while it is enriching a leaking treasury, it is metaphorically stifling productivity and employment in the real sector of our economy. This is not to advocate the shutting of our oil-wells but a call to rethink our economic diversification agenda. When we advocate diversification, we must be shifting focus to saving and investing our oil earnings while also concentrating on sectors with higher comparative advantage and greater prospects of employment generation, productivity and self-sustainability for us.

What must we IMPORT? At a time we talk of our industries being on the throes of death, producing below installed capacity, diverted to merchandising of imported items or have closed shops to relocate to other countries, our ports are wide and welcoming for all sorts of commodities while our borders are very porous, our taste for imported items down to tokunboh and over-used braziers and pants from least expected countries like Vietnam and Myanmar have only increased. We have to be objective in admitting that being a net importing nation has only encouraged conspicuous consumption with less employment generation. We collectively have to reach an understanding that our imports must be of those things that grow and add real value to our capacity rather than being dependent on others for everything. We must moderate our consumption of what we do not produce.

What must we INHIBIT? This question is easily answered in the previous explanation of what we must import. Our government must discourage through strong deterrence strategies commodities and items that prevent the growth of our local industries, introduction of incentives and subsidies to sectors that are not immediately profitable and attractive to local entrepreneurs who must necessarily be protected, regardless of the globalization garbage talk.

What must we INVENT or INNOVATE? We must be sensitive to the two demands of inspiring research and development and growing our local industry. Our government must therefore encourage invention, investment and patronage of technologies appropriate for our development stage. It is indeed absurd for us to be importing hand pumps and simple grinding and shelling machines fabricated in India while similar ones produced by our hard working technologists rot in the roadside showrooms.

What must we IMPROVE? In any reform initiative, it is inevitable that that some vulnerabilities and negative externalities will arise. They are the price we must pay if reform must be productive.  We must therefore improve on our social security deliverables to mitigate the impact of reforms and widen the arena of dialogue and communication to imbue trust and confidence that the evidently harsh and painful decision is temporary.

Let us make no mistake. There are still many harsh and painful policy decisions we will still have to make and endure at all levels of our national life if we must reach the land of our dream. Fuel subsidy is just one.  If the correct analytic tools are not employed to arrive at the right decision, it makes little difference whether it is retained or removed.  But the shock of the decisions must be manifestly and immediately mitigated by the infrastructural and social security deliverables.

Every responsible government acts in the interest of the public, as whatever a government chooses to do or not to do is the open definition of public policy. Today, we blame our government and the leadership for every ill that plagues our land, expecting it to act with despatch in public interest. Yet, if government must with the urgency and intensity we expect, it must necessarily abridge the diverse, and often conflicting vested interests that have limited our ability to reach our full national potentials. Therefore, it most step not only on the mighty cancerous toes causing extreme pains in our body polity, but also crush the feeble viral fingers of susceptible criminal toddlers.The problem  with  our nation is the erosion of a national culture built on INTEGRITY, defined as an unimpaired character that stands public scrutiny demonstrated by a well-ordered private and public life devoid moral or material corruptibility.

When integrity is asphyxiated in any polity, the essence of public service is lost as hedonism and pursuit of vested interests takes the instinct of virtually every stakeholder. We all lament that our constitution is deficient in certain areas and advocate that our nation must be guided by the rule of law, yet we are not united around the core value of integrity that needs to be addressed for the protection of our collective national interest. We all cry for national rebirth or reform without appreciating the depth integrity deficit in our national polity. There are three dimensions to the compromise of this core value in Nigeria: Abdication of public service, professionalization and desecration of politics and celebration of corruption.

The sin of abdication of public service is a product of desecration of the noble art of politics and condoning of corruption in public and private life in the country. Mahatma Ghandi, the man Indian deify as father of the nation, in 1925 illustrated these vices as politics without principle, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. Our nation rates very high in all these disturbing indices, needing serious and collective intervention. In discreet and practical terms, our government must make fundamental decisions that would produce radical changes in our culture of disdain. There is optimism that the various reform initiatives of the government will manifestly address these issues.

At the street level however, the understanding of reform is withdrawal of rights and privileges and curtailment of freedoms. Therefore, it induces trepidation and rejection. Yes, reform may seem punitive (and of course would ‘block' some vested interests), its longer term goals and objectives are to ensure equilibrium in the society by expanding access to national wealth, ensuring provision of public goods and services and guaranteeing protection of life and properties of all citizens. The kind of urgency we want the government to address the accumulated challenges demands the initiation and pursuit of radical reform policies that must definitely inconvenience everyone in implementation. They will manifest in rigid state control, seemingly over-regulation of public life with strong monitoring, compliance and deterrence strategies of enforcement that out punitive in outlook. But we cannot in a world of democracy and human rights afford official high-handedness and return to a police-state.

Without being overly prescriptive, what our nation needs in this difficult moment is the regulation our public life in a manner that does not cause extreme dislocation, nor induces shock and glut. Since our first sin in Nigeria is the abdication of public service, we need a restoration of pride in public service through consolidation and alignment of the public sector with recognition, empowerment and reward of bureaucrats and technocrats who are invaluable to national growth and development but have suffered a high degree of de-motivation and insecurity in the recent past.

The pursuit of our national reform project must be real and tangible in its criminalization of corruption in all its ramifications.  It must of course seek to de-professionalize political offices but ensure that only citizens with impeccable record in public and private sector management are attracted into politics to continue "TO SERVE WITH INTEGRITY". The seed of our national reform should be sown in benchmarking our national core value on this vital index of good governance. Our reform agenda should the capable of exorcising the nation of the cardinal sins illustrated by Mahatma Ghandi. In assuming public office and conducting public affairs, we must adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, the Nolan Principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.  

Reforming Nigeria is a hydra-headed challenge, demanding a 360 Degree attention to reach our Canaan. We must acknowledge and respect the genuine agitations of many Nigerians on the future of our country but such agitations and expressions will be meaningless if the fundamental issue of evolving a national culture built on INTEGRITY. This should be our beacon as we engage ourselves in the subject of National Rebirth or Reform. Happily, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has in his national broadcast of Monday, given an insight into what a New Nigeria will look like with the definitive actions he has outlined to cleanse the rot in our economy. It's gonna be "No business as usual.

The critical and urgent nature of the reform agenda demands a correct appreciation of the mass media in Nigeria as providing public service. The existence of trust between the government and the press, and involvement at every stage of the policy making process will smoothen our ride along the difficult path of reform and inspire our preparedness for change. After all, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. We are on a long trek to Canaanland. Our government must continue to give us assurance that ‘there is ease after every difficulty', and light at the end of the tunnel, and our leaders must be seen in our front in the trek along the long, tortuous and narrow path. God bless our country.   

Abdul-Warees is the Head of Training, Voice of Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos, (korewarith@yahoo.com korewarith@voiceofnigeria.org  , abdulwarees01@gmail.com ) 08090585723


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