How to Engage the Citizenry in True Partnerships for Devt

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Femi Adelegan

The 2001 ‘Kuru Declaration’ embodies the vision of the Nigerian Government as: ‘’Building a truly great African democratic country, politically united, integrated and stable, economically prosperous, socially organised, with equal opportunities for all, and responsibility from all, to become the catalyst of African Renaissance, and making adequate, all-embracing contributions sub-regionally, regionally, and globally. …… ‘’ The document indicates that we must build a polity that ‘’Nigerians will be proud to belong to, and grateful to inhabit; a Nigeria that rewards hard work, protects its people and their property, and offer its children better prospects than those they may be tempted to seek in Europe or the United-States.

Nigeria is a nation that is blessed with human and material resources that could sustain a broad-based growth and development. However, we have failed substantially to plan constructively for the larger part of the post-independence era, whilst the Asian Tigers that had the same GNP as Nigeria in 1960, have since grown theirs multiple-fold. Crude oil prices have now fallen so drastically that all of us have become jittery, forcing governments to reconfigure the political and economic space, in an attempt to correct the imbalance and distortions in the national economy.

If Nigeria’s problems are carefully dissected, it would be discovered that they have been created largely by those who profit from tribulations that have plagued the nation, as the ordinary Nigerian would not bother about who governs, the ruler’s tribe, colour or creed, provided governments empower the civil populace to be able to afford, and have access to basic necessities. For too long, we have battled problems of state or place of origin, religion, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and related ills, have combined to constitute formidable barriers to development. Some of the reactions of the elites have been driven by personal and selfish interests; and we have not been able to give expression to true, honest and selfless service, while the political space has at various times been overheated. Governance by sentiments had in the past hurt Nigeria’s sociopolitical setting, and the polity now grapples with emerging failed states, a development that has raised suggestions for the merger of states for viability. For 27 states in a nation to be destitute or unhealthy is an ominous sign that calls for proper attention.

Indeed, all Nigerians – leaders and followers – are complicit as the chain of collaboration between governments and the governed has over the years been terribly weakened. Weak governance structures, lack of the right political culture and the spirit of patriotism in abundant dosage, have pulled the nation back. Additionally, failure of the appropriate institutions to successfully introduce legal and institutional reforms that could assist the quest for the creation of a new social order has hindered good governance. The pertinent questions remain: How can we cushion the effects of the economic downturn without necessarily making the masses feel most uncomfortable or bear the greatest brunt, and also construct a new economic and sociopolitical order that promotes good governance, rewards efficiency, honesty, patriotism and efficiency?

Most of the problems being tackled today are results of years of degeneration and degradation occasioned by large scale destruction of socio-economic and political institutions. Economic depression hurts. Severe economic depressions have been witnessed by the United States, whose Depression commenced in 1929 with the collapse of its stock market, the United Kingdom, which experienced the collapse of its banks; Australia, Hitler’s Germany, Japan, and Asian nations. These economic recessions came at considerable costs to the global community. Depression could be corrected with stricter economic measures, social and economic planning. Measures that could mitigate effects of economic downturn are welcome. To ride on the storm, governance must take into account the sustenance of law and order, provision of an environment in which people find happiness and fulfillment, and the development of infrastructure as a prerequisite to leveraging the benefits of the global economy to improve domestic productivity.

Similarly, we require attitudinal changes; including a new orientation to build and inculcate in people a new sense of compassion and justice. We must change our attitude and orientation to focus more on caring and sharing with the needy, and from selfishness to selflessness. People have to be cultivated to accept to be part of the process of change through a subtle campaign strategy, in order to build a more progressive and prosperous polity. Evidently, there is the need, more than ever before, for redistribution of income, with introduction of incentives to encourage the affluent to engage in more philanthropy.

Thank God for the likes of Dangote, Danjuma, Alakija, Elumelu, Adenuga, Ovia, Subomi Balogun, Arthur Eze and other silent philanthropists. The principle of long range planning and visioning that shot the ‘Asian Tigers’ to prominence can work in Nigeria too. Top functionaries could lead the way to promote home made goods, including locally made textiles and consumption of agricultural produce by ‘’boycotting the boycottables’’ (Apologies to late nationalist Mbonu Ojike).

Elite competition is part of the formidable constraints facing the nation, as elites have acted in a manner that suggests preference for personal interest over and above public interest. Talks about allocation of ‘’juicy’’ political positions on the basis of zones and religious inclinations are disturbing. What is the rationale for classifying Ministries/Departments/Agencies of governments, and Legislative Committees on juicy and non-juicy basis, if the essence of holding political appointments in a representative democracy is to truly serve in national and public interest? What truly interests the citizenry is the running of an efficient and dynamic administration. If social services work in the Western world, it is because their people make them to work by obeying regulations and performing their responsibilities as specified in their social contract with government.

If people fail to fulfill their parts of the social contract, then they have no right to complain about underdevelopment, or tell stories about how infrastructure works perfectly abroad, and not in Nigeria. But a number of critical factors need to be considered. Diversification of the economy to cater for regenerating vital sub-sectors of the economy including agriculture, power, housing infrastructure, mining, tourism, mass-transportation is an urgent requirement. Additionally, peace and security are prime contributors to growth.

It is heartwarming to note that steps are being taken to eradicate the pervasive ‘’business as usual’’ practice at the federal level in order to effect positive changes. The establishment of the Efficiency Unit in the Federal Ministry of Finance, transparency in award of contracts, and widening of the revenue base are highly commendable actions. Indeed, there is no better time than now, for governments at all levels to be responsive to the feelings of the people, with public office holders leading the way in encouraging a low profile agenda. The move to re-introduce the War Against Indiscipline with modifications to accommodate respect for the rule of law will assist national development.

Part of the foregoing could be accomplished by respect for regulations by everybody. For instance, certain conducts by public officers need to be reevaluated in order to successfully court the citizenry at this critical period in history. One of these is the temptation of managing flashy convoys that may send erratic signals of wastage, when people are being requested to further tighten their belts.

While our culture encourages the celebration of ignorance, by way of recording wastages through staging of expensive social functions and other acts of profligacy that create class distinction; culture is also dynamic and amenable to changes. Therefore, governments may wish too consider payment of taxes on huge spendings on social functions like funeral and marriage ceremonies, and higher tariffs on other luxurious items, including those numerous private jets. Tourism is capable of generating huge foreign exchange and deemphasise travels abroad on vacation, and so should be promoted.

Sensitizing Nigerians to support Governments at all levels in the implementation of policies and plans is imperative. However, the authorities must restore the confidence of the masses in Governments at all levels by practical indications of judicious management of resources. This would further boost morale and support for governments. Respect for regulations is important and enforcement of discipline must start from the top. For instance, the number of illegal users of the siren on the highways is disturbing, while enforcers of the law look the other way. Part of the implementation of this rule should be for authorities to withdraw privileges from those who are not entitled, in order to install a semblance of order.

Obafemi Awolowo and Lateef Jakande are examples of leaders who resided in their private houses and drove in their private cars while occupying public offices. Former Governor Bisi Akande who demonstrated great dexterity in resource management as Governor of Osun State, Aregbesola and could be requested to chair a committee to suggest low profile measures for consideration for adoption by governments at the three tiers. Former governor Babatunde Fashola, who was moderate for the entire period of his tenure as Lagos State governor, and Governor El-Rufai could join Chief Akande on that panel. This issue needs to be addressed as a form of reducing cost of governance, reducing poverty, and instilling discipline. Presidential and governorship directives on low profile are most desirable at this period. The citizenry would be greatly pleased to further tighten their belts if leaders embrace a low profile culture.

The nation can be successfully rebuilt in collaboration with the governed, consistency in policy formulation and implementation, periodic reforms, transparency, accountability, fiscal discipline and the enthronement of due process. Of importance is the need for home-grown policies in the critical sub-sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture, power, mass-transportation, housing, tourism, and mining. More importantly, there is a huge need for increased philanthropy and redistribution of wealth. Like Andrew Carnegie once asserted: ‘’The duty of the man of wealth…is to set examples of modest, unostentatious living, shunning the display of wealth and extravagance, provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him, and after doing so, consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds which is for administration, in the manner in which his judgment is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results to the community.”

Framers of the new constitution may wish to consider a home-grown political system that would reduce cost of governance by evolving a system comparable to the Westminster model that allows for legislators to function on part-time basis at the three ties of Government as part of the solutions. The fight against poverty and unemployment must be seen as a central plank of developmental planning and education should be regarded as the greatest investment, the surest foundation for development, and an inalienable right of the populace. Nigeria, with her abundant resources is capable of performing economic miracles through the introduction of appropriate reforms as the government takes active steps towards less reliance on foreign loans and financial aids. Security breaches could be partly tackled with strategic communication to neutralize the effects of corrosive influences.

It is obvious that more discussions, consultations and co-operation must guide decisions to ensure quick resolution of crises through information-sharing, dialogue and diplomatic means; while also increasing activity on the second track of peace and reconciliation. Former American president, William Jefferson Clinton once asserted that ‘’Government should empower us to do things we need or want to do; that we can only do together by pooling our resources and spending them in large, enough amounts.’’ Therefore, there should be increments in the social capital as measured by the amount of faith and trust that citizens could have in their social system. For an enduring democratic growth, there must be loyalty to private trust and to public duty.

The political class must work towards gaining the support and confidence of the citizenry by embracing the culture of good governance. We are in a new era that could throw Nigeria into greater prominence and brighter global limelight again. Without any doubt, our fate is in our own hands. And that brings to mind JF Kennedy’s assertion in his Inauguration Address in 1961, in which he stated that “civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof…the burden of the ‘twilight struggle’ lay on this people and this generation.” Certainly, Nigeria’s ‘’dry bones’’ could rise again before too long; provided attitudinal changes, good governance, respect for the rule of law, and functional collaboration between the government and the governed guide our collective efforts at nation-building.

-Femi Adelegan, who sent this piece from Abuja, is a public policy analyst, and author of notable publications on Good Governance. He was chief private secretary/special adviser on Policies, Programmes and Plans Implementation to the governor of Osun State (2003-2010); and Chief Press Secretary to four governors of Osun State (1994-2000)