Much has been said about the on-going near debacle in Nigeria and it is important to address the issue as an existing phenomena and not a new trend as some see it. The present government is clearly imbibed in one form of transformation agenda which has not been sold to the average Nigerian. Unfortunately, the kind of democracy practised is not institutionally embedded to challenge incumbents, most especially the president who has much power conferred on him by the 1999 constitution.
The use of transformation as a political means of conveying the policy direction of the government plus the inability to differentiate between transformation and transition does not augur well for the country. Transition entails a process from the present stage into the next stage of a planned process, while transformation entails proceeding into an unknown space for the purpose of arriving at some change. Transitiondoes bring about change if that is the desired outcome, it lays out the fundamental process of building on the present while taking into consideration the following:
- Initial or inherited conditions
- External conditions
It is important that the present government readjusts to a transition mode as opposed to the idea of doing it all at once and solving it with a magic wand. There are many questions to be asked: where is this transition taking us to, where is the expected destination, how does the citizenship buy into the restructuring of the country with a bottom-top approach as opposed to a top-bottom approach? A rejection of the transition of a nation can easily translate into a rejection of its democracy where there is insufficient civic participation/support. The different emerging spheres in a transition must be clearly understood and addressed with the interest of the nation at heart:
- Sphere of values: what does the country want to be known for when it comes to its culture and identity?
- Sphere of reason: what is the role of institutions in building the country?
- Sphere of interest: Who gets what?
In the last 30 years, the institutions across the country have become very weak, with individualism and sentiments taking over the system. Economic and political reforms require time, patience and adaptation from the citizens; the government must put mechanisms in place to carry citizens along in the decision making process. Building an institution requires every element of trust- it is not enough to be elected legitimately as required by law, but the need to gain the absolute trust of citizens is the most important requirement for a government to carry out its transition effectively.
The transition process is an interplay between internal and external factors and cannot be built around individuals, political parties or ethnic groups, but institutions. The inter dynamic process between government, political parties and citizens must be shaped by institutions. At the moment we have a new wave of civic engagement by the younger generation which we hope would bring about a new sense of citizenship and perception of Nigeria. The level of trust in the society is a measure of how the society views the government and other institutions.
Through the Occupy Nigeria protests in January 2012, every mechanism of the government was deployed in shaping the discussion with regular interviews on mainstream and social media, while the civil society and the young people took the debate to a new level. It was not just about the fuel hike but also about highlighting the roles and definitions of government and institutions. Conspicuously missing in this debate were educational institutions; in other countries, the academic community play a significant role when it comes to national issues/debates. The proffered excuse is the claim that universities were on academic strike. With the universities back to work (after the occupy Nigeria protests), is there an on-going academic debate on the matter? Which faculty of any Nigerian university is ready to engage the Minister of finance on the proposed economic policies with a view to contribute to national development, educate the citizens and improve on engagement and participation?
The House of Representative probe into the fuel subsidy removal, further confirmed the near total collapse of various institutions- from security agencies to the NNPC and PPRA. The Ministry of Finance, Petroleum Resources and several other institutions were on hand to play the blame game back and forth without regard for those they represented.
A lot of economic indices favour developing countries to grow their GDP at a faster rate than developed countries. This will only happen if the institutions are empowered to function devoid of political, religious and ethnic sentiments. In the absence of this, what we have are quasi-functional institutions which operate within a limited network influenced by political parties or ethnic affiliations. The few positioned citizens in these networks are the big players in the economy where the code of conduct remains shrouded in secrecy with excessive government intervention being used as a cover up for hidden interests of various groups, which are presented in the guise of public goods and expanded by various lobbyists. Some politicians and their cronies continue to use these special interests to gain political influence at the expense of developing our institutions while the government continues the politicization of the economy which is very harmful to economic growth.
The country is paying a huge price for the absence of institutions due to inconsistent government policies and corruption without anyone really worrying about the implications- citizens pay with their dear lives (bad roads and resultant accidents), poor health access, insecurity, substandard education, decay of existing infrastructure. The tax system is very weak while the informal economy continues to expand at the expense of the state. This vacuum is taken over by political opportunists determined to extort citizens in the name of taxation policies.
On the other side of the divide is the civil society, the opposition parties and concerned citizens who constantly serve as a check to the excesses of the government. Here you will find intellectuals and professionals who can contribute to restructuring our institutions during this transition. To see a different approach towards addressing national issues, an analytical approach to effective problem solving must be encouraged within the public sector. Advocating for a polycentric governance system across the 36 states is long overdue, as it will open up public and private spaces to facilitate in effective problem solving. The challenge will be how to make public service more effective by working closely with the citizens and institutions frequently, this will create new ways of putting services together using local talent and resources, a mix of large and small efficiency across. It is important not to confuse complexity with chaos, as every state across the country has its own complex nature. Learning how to deal with this complexity is ideal as opposed to providing short term solutions.
The government cannot be absolved of wasteful spending and the overlapping functions of various institutions, hence the outcry for cuts in recurrent expenditure. An understanding of how government institutions work is unclear to many citizens, why and how these institutions have performed badly should be part of the on-going debate as opposed to advocacy for outright cuts. The idea of setting up committees and task forces to address every single issue outside the framework of existing legal institutional capacity for long term development is not ideal for our transition; relevant institutions must be empowered to deliver and the best hands must be employed to do the job. Case in point includes the establishment of a World Bank desk in the presidency to vet Federal contracts- an indictment of the activities of the Bureau for Public Procurement which is an institution set up by law. Another example is the case where the Central Bank donated funds to bomb blast victims despite the existence of a federal relief agency. The SURE initiative which crumbled within 6 weeks is yet another example- why should it be concerned with road projects when we have the Ministry of Transport, FERMA and the Ministry of Niger Delta.
The government should refocus on
- Enforcing law and order/security
- Power Supply
- Macroeconomic stabilization by macroeconomic policies
- Microeconomic liberalization
- Fundamental institutional restructuring and reforms
This transition period should be used to build the foundation for our future with emphasis on institutions and not individuals, political parties or ethnic groups.