I was taught at the Harris School of Public Policy (Kelly Center), University of Chicago, USA, that the very essence of public policy is to improve and ensure the best outcomes for common good. The school teaches that making social impact requires fresh thinking and different approaches, trains leaders to ask hard questions and prepares them to drive the change that the world needs.
I was a proud member of my class until one fateful day Prof. Ethan Mesquita introduced a case study: “Why nations fail.” I lost my swagger, as Nigeria was chosen for country case study. I felt uncomfortable with the choice of my country but, upon further enquiries, it dawned on me that Nigeria was the favourite country for case study of why nations fail in Ivy League classrooms and conference halls of the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Until I left the school, the guilt of my country remained my shame.
Analysing the challenges of the Nigerian political economy, it was the submission of everyone that the failure of the country can be basically located in the absence of interrogation in its leadership recruitment process. I honestly wish I can unlearn some of the things the case study revealed but the danger of knowledge is that, no matter how unsettling you find it, it can never be un-taught or unknown.
I still remember the fable of Aesop told in one of our “brown bag” sessions on policy design and delivery. The Greek slave fabulist and storyteller told a fable called “Washing the Ethiopian (or at some period the Blackamoor) White.” The story concerns the owner of a black slave who imagines that he has been neglected by his former master and tries to wash off the blackness. This goes on for so long that the person is made ill or even dies of cold. The fable is the source of the saying: “you wash the Ethiopian in vain” or “you will never manage to turn black night into day.” We, as a nation, cannot make appreciable progress as we continue to wash the Ethiopian either because he is from our tribe, belongs to our religious sect or he has sufficiently compromised us and handed us enough detergent.
Most countries continue to get ahead of us not because they are magicians. They do so because we have refused to introduce hygiene in our politics. If we are to progress, we must disinfect and sanitise the system and get our economy moving. Prof. P.L.O. Lumumba asks: “You bring a hyena to take care of goats and when the goats disappear you wonder why?” There must be taboo in our politics and our leaders must be subjected to some ideals and exacting standards.
This administration, which parrots its primary achievement as the fight against corruption, must wake up and live up to its billing, if global institutions of higher learning must cease from using us as country case study of why nations fail. We must collectively or individually begin to call out high-ranking officials of this government who have contributed in making us wear this badge of ignominy.
Recently, there has been a barrage of publications on alleged sleaze going on at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), where Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio is the supervising minister. Without prejudice to the veracity or otherwise of the allegations, there is need to look at them critically. As minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, who supervises NDDC, Akpabio is on the spot. The deteriorating strategic situation in the NDDC Akpabio is mandated to supervise calls for worry. There are payments in NDDC that must be looked into, like the sum of N3.8 billion under the Education, Health and Social Services Directorate as follows: 1. Supply of maternal delivery kits (three lots) valued at N1,128,750,000.00; 2. Supply of cholera vaccines (three lots) valued at N680,000,000.00; 3. Supply of Lassa fever protective kits (one lot) valued at N903,000,000.00; 4. Supply of Lassa fever kits (22 lots) valued at N1,0922,283,50; 5. Supply of outstanding science equipment (seven lots) valued at N292,764,833.50.
I wonder how the auditors would report or treat the report of the quantity surveyors that should be consulted to evaluate the real cost of the head office building, which increased from N6 billion to N16 billion. The procurement unit of the commission awarded a contract dated April 6, 2020, for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers in the fight against COVID-19 in the Niger Delta region, which must be supplied on or before April 21, 2020. The US and European governments are all in the market seeking to purchase PPE. The questions are: 1. Was the award based on the NDDC 2019 budget that was passed by the National Assembly in the first week of February 2020, well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nigeria in March 2020? 2. Was there any virement, and, if yes, by whom? 3. Where would the company get PPE of over US$13 million in 15 days?
This government must be assertive and take steps that would make our nation stop being used in country case studies of why nations fail. I am tired of my shame being my country’s guilt.
•Ekong, a policy advisor and resident of Massachusetts, USA, writes from Port Harcourt