By Oseloka H. Obaze
Nigeria remains politically and developmentally in the wilderness, due to poor leadership and governance challenges. Nigerians still pray for Nigeria in distress, knowing that prayer “has great powers to produce results.” But Nigeria’s resort to prayer, simply underlines that governance fails when it’s not redemptive; Karl Marx’s contention that “religion is the opiate of the masses,” notwithstanding. It’s now obvious that turning Nigeria requires redemptive governance; a non-partisan coalescing of various individuals — sufficiently bold and selflessly honest — “men who possess opinions and a will” to rethink Nigeria’s remediation modalities and indeed, make Nigeria functional again.
As Nigeria hobble under recessionary pressures and sustainable livelihood becomes a gargantuan challenge, religion becomes a thriving industry replete with dupes and false prophets. In Nigeria’s depressed economy, this state of play validates the contention that “God dey, is the poor man’s prayer.” Yet Nigeria’s present realities underpin the enormity of her challenges; plus the fact that the nation and those entrusted to bring about that change, are all struggling badly. If change reflects success, little of it abounds in Nigeria.
The initial flush of collective optimism, exhilaration and bravura has waned; and trickle down dividends of democracy are slow in coming. Nigeria’s governance problem is that the ‘change’ bar might have been set too high; beyond what Nigeria’s weak leadership, weak institutions, weak infrastructure and weak resolve can deliver. Oddly, the Buhari administration has an articulated vision, purpose and governance strategies; and the ‘right’ set of people, with the requisite credentials. Thus, it remains incomprehensible why it’s difficult to turn around Nigeria, with the fundamentals of good governance seemingly in place. Balanced analyses point to the need for clarity, absence of organisational capability to deliver on purpose and absence of effective stakeholder engagement, as mitigating factors. Stagflation makes addressing the country’s present challenges difficult, even as Nigeria’s leadership insists that the country must look beyond oil. Vacillation in oil prices still makes nonsense of planning and budgeting. The challenges are worsened by a political and leadership class averse to making personal sacrifices. Also, national interest has disappeared from the national lexicon, thus rendering every policy measure suspect.
Secondly, a combination of poor infrastructure, poor electricity supply and growing unemployment compound present challenges. Third, Nigerian legislators refuse to be frugal. Fourth, while financing agriculture is a viable option, the agribusiness blueprint seems opaque in the absence of synergy; thus making it almost impossible to reduce food importation by 2019. Likewise the remediation of decrepit infrastructure remains arduous. Absence of policy synergy between the federal government and the state and local governments also pose continuing challenges. Despite recent bailouts, only four states are economically viable and the six states that did not receive bailouts are now all heavily indebted. While the federal government tries to address burgeoning national debt, the states in parallel opposite, continue borrowing. Such unchecked borrowings compound Nigeria’s intractable foreign exchange challenges and growing contingent liabilities.
As, observed recently by SBM Intelligence, most Nigerian states failed “to diversify their economies by developing human capital and levering on the substantial resources they possessed. The result has been powerful governors beholden to ostentatious living, bloated public work-forces, with its attendant wage demands; fully 80% of the states owe salaries.” As state governments seek refunds for resources they used on rehabilitating decrepit federal infrastructures; the same states also spend enormous fiscal resources in underwriting logistical and financial support for federal law enforcement agencies, with hardly any recompense from Abuja. These awkward realities inevitably compel demands for restructuring.
Most of the 2017 draft budgets presented by the federal and state governments are largely improbable; very few are zero-based and very few will be funded and implemented fully. Insofar as the federal and state governments strangulate the local governments by fiats, challenges will subsist; just as UNIDO has proclaimed Nigeria’s SMEs “Ignorant of certain investment and technological skills” required to liberate the country from the claws of the current recession.”
Oddly, those who dare to advise or criticize the Buhari government are being pummeled with counter-criticisms. Although we are in a democracy, Presidential aides have become pointlessly defensive, combative and shockingly impolitic and pushback against any advice or criticisms. Government has thus lost sight of the divide between jibes by its traducers and exhortations from well-meaning Nigerians.
For its own edification, the Presidency needs to commission some policy preceptors to explore the constructive role of three thirteen century figures — Robert of Sorbon, a churchman; Etienne Boileau, a bourgeois; and Simon de Nesle, an aristocrat — that jointly orchestrated the transfiguring of French politics by fostering redemptive governance during the reign of King Louis IX. It is worrying that midway into President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term, most of his initial supporters having “changed’, are jumping ship and his erstwhile allies are realigning for 2019; convinced that he won’t be catalytic to the electoral outcome. Electoral trends in Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria that swept aside underperforming leaders remain instructive. As Kingsley Moghalu, noted, “Nigeria’s fiscal crisis in a world of low oil prices can be addressed only through a constitutional redesign that devolves decision-making to units that will have economies of scale.” Ditto Nigeria’s governance challenges.
Nigerians are suffering and need a catharsis chockfull with redemptive governance and smart power leadership not influenced ethno-political considerations. Nigeria should retool its leadership advisory and decision-making methods. Nigeria needs people in public offices, who no longer need the pecks of government, but whose counsel the government can’t do without. Former U.S. Vice-President Walter Mondale served as the 24th U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996. Such public service, patriotism, and leadership are rare in Nigeria, where politics and public service are self-indulgent. If President Buhari’s remaining tenure must yield tangible results, there must be a rethink aimed at redemptive governance.
If the process starts with a cabinet reshuffle, so be it. Still. Since constitutional guarantee of social justices seem not to suffice, we should perhaps resort to philosophical-theological dictates of the Holy Books. This proposal isn’t in favour of dogmatic governance, but biased towards governance that is people-oriented; which substitutes rhetoric and promises with compassion and promotes justice and common good instead of divisive policies.
Obaze is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd.