Kayode Fayemi writes that the challenges of change is multi-dimensional, especially in an environment like Nigeria’s
The elders of my small but scenic hometown, Isan-Ekiti, had come to see me to express certain displeasure with me shortly after I was sworn-in as the Governor of Ekiti State in late 2010. At this point, while the Government House in the state capital was being renovated, I was driving to the Governor’s Office from my hometown daily. The elders told me that they found it disappointing and sorely disconcerting that the people in the town were hardly aware of when I drove out of, and back into town every day. Why was this a problem, I was forced to ask them?
Well, they understood my credentials as a scholar, they were also aware that I had been an activist for many years. But now I am the governor of Ekiti State, and this would be the first and, perhaps, the only time in a long while, that the governor would come from their hometown. Why then was I denying them the opportunity of enjoying the pomp and circumstance of power by driving in and out of town without using the siren – if only to remind the people of the adjoining towns that their own son is the governor of the state?
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, there are countless of such stories that I can tell to illustrate both the challenges and the opportunities for change in the ethos and practices of power and governance in Nigeria. The original topic I was given was “For Better, For Worse: State Governance, Change and Unity in Nigeria.” I have decided to speak on the same issue, but to alter the title slightly by speaking to “The Challenge of Change: State Governance, Democratisation and Development in Nigeria.”
Change is central in all these, because social transformation is an indispensable factor in any society - even in the most developed ones. Because society is a permanent work-in-progress, continuity and change must be in a constant struggle so as to find the best direction and methods of social progress. However, no lasting social change starts outside the minds of human beings. This is why Albert Einstein stated that “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
If a political culture encourages people to think that a state governor is not “governor enough” because he does not announce his going and coming with blaring sirens, even when there is no obstructing traffic, then we have to realise that the challenges of change is multi-dimensional.
The Fundamentals of the African State
The last two decades of democratisation in Africa has witnessed significant social, economic and political changes on the African continent. As one who spent several years in the civil society, working with social forces in Africa and development agencies across the world to encourage change on the continent, indeed, I can confirm that Africa is changing for the better.
Of course, I am not unaware that a lot has been written by Western scholars on the African predicament which oscillates between hope and despair and described in various dark grammars– failed states, collapsed states, incapable states, proforma democracies to mention but a few of such epithets.
Some African scholars have equally responded to many of the dark prognoses on the African State by describing them as “collapse thesis.” Some Western scholars have even gone further, adept at what they consider to be the most sinister manifestations of the state in Africa since it fits a convenient and popular narrative, to announce that, despite all its “illogicality,” “Africa (actually) Works”– because as they conclude, “Disorder (acts) as Political Instrument” in the continent.
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world,” says Marx in The German Ideology, “the point, however, is to change it.” We can say the same about Africa: The philosophers have only interpreted Africa, the point, however, is to change it.
We have not only been presented with the fundamentals of the African state, millions of us have also lived this reality in the last half a century since independence. The challenge, therefore, is to change these conditions for the better, and through this,help interested parties in recognising key elements and useful signs towards deepening democracy and achieving better governance.
The Ethos of Governance
What then is the ethos of governance in contemporary Africa? As I argued in a recent address at an event organised by the grant-making Open Society Africa Foundations of the Soros Network in Accra, Ghana, the dialectics of reform in Africa has demonstrated in the last two decades that rarely does transformation come from a single, big shift, but rather as a cascading outcome of cumulative shifts.
Yet, democracy watchers and development experts insist on seeing the glass of good governance as consistently half-empty or half-filled, the truth is that significant variations exist in between these broad generalisations when we move away from outcomes and focus on the dynamics, quality, texture and content of democratic and governance reform on the African continent.
In many ways therefore, as a process of decision-making and the means or methods by which decisions are implemented, governance is about change and it must be sensitive to the process, not just intended products. What the concept and practices of governance have alerted us to, in very complex ways in contemporary Africa, are the fundamental ways in which government is only one of the actors, even if the most critical actor, in governance.
As a concept and vehicle of change, governance involves many actors acting in consonance to ensure social transformation. Therefore, good governance is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and ensures the rule of law.
In Nigeria, sub-national states like Lagos, Edo, Anambra, Gombe, Jigawa, Rivers and my own state of Ekiti, are constantly demonstrating the possibilities of change and good governance under popularly elected governments. I am particularly proud to use Ekiti State as an example.
Despite all the negatives that we inherited, which included the violation of the people’s sovereign right to decide the leadership through democratic means, when my administration came to office, we launched a well-articulated Eight-point Agenda of making poverty history in our state.
We have pursued this agenda vigorously with a dedicated team of professionals with outstanding track records in various spheres of human endeavour, and a high degree of personal integrity. Having being a core activist in both local and international civil society and having now being in partisan politics for eight years and in government for two years, I have been able to mobilise the energies in the three spheres – civil society, political society, and the state - to ensure best practices and good governance and support from development partners. This is done with a strong belief in the need to build coalitions for change beyond the three orbits, which I believe, should not constitute a basis for separation and fragmentation, but rather a basis for building community and cohesion.
Against this backdrop, in Ekiti State, within two years, we have restored the core Ekiti values of passion, courage, integrity, meritocracy and honour; we have restored confidence in Ekiti State among local and international development partners and investors with our people-oriented policy thrust in all the units of governance.
Our Eight-point Agenda include Participatory Governance; Infrastructural Development; Modernising Agriculture; Education and Human Capital Development; Healthcare Services; Industrial Development; Tourism; and Gender Equality and Empowerment. Planning, prudence and a hundred percent commitment to the agenda we have set to achieve, that is putting the people first, have produced a change that was unimaginable only a few years ago.
The first challenge of change that we faced in office therefore was how to restore and rebuild public trust in governance; how to re-create the necessary institutional architecture required to deliver change; how to implement policies that would combat poverty, inequality, unemployment, the diversification of the economy and industrialisation; how to promote democratic governance; and how to provide social security.
Our essential purpose in government– on the basis of which we sought and campaigned for public office– was the necessity of making poverty, alongside its attendant manifestations, history in Ekiti State. To that end, the change that impelled our efforts was driven by the desire to put our people at the centre of development, to promote freedoms and human rights, and to combat the systems and structures that impoverish our people and engender oppression. Importantly, our mission was to activate the institutions that would help to attain the goals of development.
In recognition of the peculiarity of our circumstances, geography and comparative advantage, we have focused on governance on agriculture, infrastructure and education as well as building a healthy population. Consequent upon the implementation of programmes and activities opened up by the Eight-point Agenda, our administration has achieved, in the past two years of its existence, substantially more than what our two predecessors were able to achieve in the preceding seven years of our advent into power.
Yet, while change and the processes leading up to it has been our mission in the past two years and through which we have attained much mileage in our project of providing good governance to the people of Ekiti, we must also admit that our regenerative blueprint has encountered practical challenges resulting from economic and political limitations. While the expectations on us to ‘perform’ has been higher than can be possibly met with the constraints of resources determining how fast the government could run with its intentions and projects, pockets of resistance have equally emerged to resist change.
Definitely, some of our decisions have been controversial, but we are a government that has not shied away from taking very difficult decisions that would ultimately restore our pride of place and positively impact on the lives of our people. Ready instances in this direction include the teachers’ competency appraisals to determine their skills gaps and training needs, and the forensic audit of local council workers who demand increases in wages but refuse to conform to procedures that would assist the government in blocking the financial leakage that would make such increment possible.
The reclamation of trust that has promoted the compact between our administration and the people of Ekiti State is constituted on the premises of openness, transparency, selfless-service, probity and accountability in the management of public funds and resources. We are not only in the business of government to deepen the commonwealth and create sustainable value for our people, but equally to make information about the government and its processes as publicly accessible as possible. This is the effort to enhance participatory governance through engaging with critical stakeholders in development planning, and to come to the ‘table’ and leave it with clean hands.
Yet, the change in governance being operationalised in Ekiti State under the direction and watch of our administration, takes cognisance of the responsibility of government to enhance the efficacy of the available pool of resources (material and human) to deliver on robust services for the good of the people, whilst innovating alternate resource generation directions. A major aspect of our programme in this regard involved the introduction of a biometric system that not only audited the existing stock of resources but plugged the loopholes and leakages that had been haemorrhaging the capacity of the state to implement its developmental endeavours.
Through this procedure, the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) profile of the state increased in multiple folds from a measly N106 million ($650,000) a month to over N600 million ($3.75m) month, and it is anticipated to hit the N1 billion ($6m)-a-month mark in the near future. Worthy of note is the fact that this surge in IGR occurred was without increments in taxes or levies, but through the deployment of e-payment options, the blockade of tax seepages, and the elimination of remunerations traditionally accruing to ghost workers, from which the state lost about N3.5 billion yearly, etc.
Also, we are making massive investments in human capital development through declaration of free education in primary and secondary schools in Ekiti State, the renovation of all dilapidated schools building across the state, and the promotion of an ICT culture in which we provide one solar laptop per student in secondary schools. Equally, we have ensured the access to healthcare by children, pregnant women, senior citizens, and the physically-challenged in hospitals in Ekiti State in the past two years, while healthcare centres have been established in all localities.
Further to these have been the jumpstarting of industrial development through the establishment of technology parks for small and medium-scale enterprises; urban renewal; the creation of micro-credit facilities; development of the agro-allied and solid minerals sectors; and massive investments in the tourism corridor.
It’s still the structure, stupid!
Yet, we still face fundamental odds. The structural deformities of the Nigerian federation have circumscribed many of the possibilities of our state, and many other states in Nigeria and the country as a whole. Both local and international observers have described Nigeria as an “embarrassment of riches,” both in human and materials terms. Why then is the Nigeria state in such a wobbly state and why are the citizens of the country trapped in such disappointing socio-economic and political realities? What could be done to bring about sustainable change at the national-state level?
It is difficult, if not impossible to sustain good governance at the national level in Nigeria because of the structural fatalities that I have mentioned earlier. The over-concentration of powers in the centre must give way to devolution and decentralisation of power and authority. Therefore, a critical fundamental political restructuring of the Nigerian federation is an unavoidable step that must be taken to generate the basis for the creation and sustenance of a participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive national governance and one that is based on the rule of law. I am convinced that this can, and will definitely, happen in Nigeria at some point in the near future.
Nigeria is a deeply divided, but immensely blessed and potentially great country. Why Nigerians and foreigners are often focussed on the deep divisions, little is said, for the most account, on our immense assets and potentials. What Nigerians need to do is to use our immense blessings, both human and natural, and transform our potential greatness into real greatness, in order to reduce our deep divisions and enhance or strengthen our unity. The two steps I have elaborated above are critical in doing this. There must be a fundamental political transformation of Nigeria; then, good governance must become the underlying basis of political power. With these, I believe that the question of deepening democracy and enhancing development would be largely resolved. Nigeria cannot achieve this without a national resolution by Nigerians to come together as one people with a common destiny.
As I said at my inaugural address in October 2010, it is possible. Positive change is possible in Nigeria. There are many change agents who are devoted to ensure the legitimacy and responsiveness of the state, the deepening and expansion of democracy, good governance and national unity in Nigeria. These change agents are not only in the civil society. We also have them in the political society and the state. There are many challenges that these change agents face, but most of us, and I count myself among them, are undaunted.
In Ekiti State, with massive investment in agriculture, infrastructure, public education, social services and health, and by creating a conducive environment for private enterprise to thrive, thereby creating economic opportunities for our people and working towards expanding the middle class, and by creating synergy not only locally, but also regionally among our contiguous states and by partnering with international development agencies, we have shown that change is possible and that good governance is achievable – even in a resource challenged state. This change is not only material, but also attitudinal.
As for my people in Isan-Ekiti, two years after, I still don’t announce my arrival and departure with the siren when I drive into town, and they have now embraced this as part of the best practices of good governance. Positive change is constantly beckoning on us. We only have to continue to rise up to the occasion but I urge friends of Nigeria not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.