“Africa does not need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Ω Barack Obama
The above statement was made by the first black President of the United States in his address to the Ghanaian Parliament at the Accra International Centre in 2009. Obama’s statement encapsulates one of the fundamental and underlining problems bedevilling governance in Nigeria and Africa at large: weak institutions.
Establishment of modern institutions as the machinery of government in Nigeria could be traced to the colonial masters. During colonialism, state institutions were specifically established and designed to achieve the economic and political interests of the colonial masters. Because of this, the colonial institutions were repressive, coercive, and oppressive. As a matter of fact, they were not for the interests of the people but for the colonialists.
Whereas the colonial institutions were strong because they were built on the use of excessive force, the weaknesses were later to be exposed after the demise of colonialism; for it was not built around the people but on a few strongmen. This is perhaps where the gap between institutions and governance started in the country. Thereafter, building institutions has proven to be problematic to post-colonial Nigeria; and the more we try to build our institutions, the more we inadvertently build strongmen that undermine the institutions.
One key defining and identifiable characteristic of a strong/good institution, which has been missing in Nigeria, is that good a institution is driven by ideas, value system, and core operational mandates. Its effectiveness and efficiency are not only attributable to the proficiency of the person heading it but to the mandate binding on the institution and everybody found therein. As a result of this, recruitment into a functional institution is based on merit, not nepotism, bribery, and quota system, which have conventionally characterized our recruitment process.
The deliverables of good governance, without any contradiction, are achieved through institutions.
Consequently, government’s policies, programmes, and projects are driven and implemented through synergistic inter-institutional interactions. Without good, strong institutions, government’s policies, regardless of how good they are, would be partially implemented, if not ending on paper.
Among social scientists, there is an agreeable fact that modern government was established and institutionalised by the people to achieve some objectives. To David Easton, classical and contemporary understanding of government emphasizes the existence of socio-political structures and processes that authoritatively determine the allocation of societal values. And for social contract theorists, the primary responsibility of government is the protection of life and property. Therefore, governance espouses all the actions and policies taken by government to achieve these societal good.
Drawing from this, conversely, it is very worrisome to know that the Nigerian state, like many other African counterparts, is failing at the end of its social contract.
Security of life and property, poverty, transparency, accountability, and rule of law, among others, are some of the governance problems and questions that have plagued Nigeria for years. The country is still grappling with security challenges of banditry, kidnapping and terrorism. Worst still, the poverty index, despite the abundant resources within our disposal, compounds the challenges of governance in the country.
Since 1960, a lot of institutional models have been adopted to overcome the challenges of governance in Nigeria, yet, none has adequately tackled the underlying problems. In the First Republic, the parliamentary system of government was adopted and modelled in line with the Westminister system of Britain. Under this system, there was a dual executive, with executive powers shared between the President and the Prime Minister. Devolution of power was also witnessed between the three regions, North, West and East.
Though the parliamentary system has been adjudged by many as the best political system Nigeria has ever practiced because of the principles of federalism that were observed, the inherent archetypal dissimilitude of Nigerian politics became a precursor to the demise of the system in the First Republic.
During the 1964 general election, the political disagreement between the United Progressive Grand Alliance (a coalition of southern-dominated political parties) and the National Nigerian Alliance (a coalition of northern-dominated political parties) threatened the existence of an incipient country. Recall that the United Progressive Grand Alliance threatened to boycott the polling booths on the eve of the election, citing intimidation, harassment, and killing of their candidates/supporters during campaigns, especially in the North. However, the northern-dominated National Nigerian Alliance insisted that the election must go on.
The aftermath of the 1964 elections saw the refusal of the President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, to inaugurate Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, owing to the massive boycott of the election in the south. In fact, for the number of days this refusal lingered, there was an interregnum, and the genesis of the military’s incursion into Nigerian politics, which fully manifested in the first coup of 1966 that ended the First Republic.
Institutional building further suffered a setback under military rule. The military, in any case, was never interested in building functional and dynamic institutions but only built institutions that had the mandate to prevent regime change. This institutional mentality is one of the most significant problems the military bequeathed to civilian rule in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s institutional model was to changed from the British parliamentary system to the American presidential system, beginning from 1976 and fully reintroduced from 1999 to date. As usual, we still have not been able to practice the system to the fullest neither have we been able to modify it in a way that suits our current realities. In the US, for instance, they have mastered the art of strengthening their institutions, that’s the reason anybody from any race can rule in line with the already made strong institution. The law governing the state and local governments has been strengthened to sustain the rule of law, no matter the person or political party in power.
For example, the US President cannot go into New York City without the acknowledgment and confirmation of the Mayor concerning the security and safety of both the airport and places the President will be visiting. Without such authority, the President cannot land in the city. This is because the institution has been separated and built strong to operate that way and it’s practically impossible for any government to come and change it at ease.
(To be continued next week)