The Imperatives for National Rebirth in Nigeria

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On Tuesday, the 17th of December, 2019, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) and its Governing Council Chair, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, played host to a galaxy of Nigeria’s great minds, academics and professionals from all works of life at a Seminar

which set out with an extremely rich and competent lead paper presented by the COO and Senior Fellow, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Dr. Tayo Aduloju and titled ‘Building a Great Nation: Reformed Public Institutions as Imperative’. In attendance were, HRH Oba Dokun Bolarin, Odia Ofeimun, Amb. (Dr.) Yemi Farounbi, Dr. Kunle Olajide, Dr. Olu Agunloye, Wordsmith Ray Ekpu, Dr. Kolade Mosuro; Chief Bayo Oyero, Chineye Ogwo, Otunba Deji Osibogun, Profs. Bolanle Awe, Biola Odejide, Gabriel Ogunmola, Siyan Malomo, Olabode Lucas, Alaba Ogunsanwo, Babajide Owoeye,

Jide Osuntokun, Mike Adeyeye, Sola Ogunniyi, Fola Faponle and Drs. Festus Adedayo, Ademola Adegbile, Tunji Bolade, Sina Adekanbi, Tunde Oseni, Akeem Amodu, Kemi Okowa, Taofeek Ademola Bello, Engrs. Korede Segun, Deji Faponle and John Ayodele, Mr. Lanre Ogunmoyela, Mrs. Edem Ossai, to name just a few.
I also like to appreciate Prof, Tunde Adeniran and Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, for the role they play to enrich my story at 60. It is only to be expected that a conversation to which this assemblage contributed will be rich, nuanced and most enlightening. What I am doing therefore with this piece is to share my reflection from the take away from this remarkable seminar organised as part of events to mark my 60th birthday.

Most Nigerians agree that Nigeria is a good and potentially great country. It is easy to examine statistics and demographics that point at the potential greatness of this state. Indeed, most regret that Nigeria is not able to achieve her fullest national stature because of the bad stroke of luck concerning leadership. It is therefore still possible to find a large horde of optimists all over the country who are incurably certain that Nigeria will still one day, and very soon, overcome her ailing debilitation to redeem her mandate to her citizens, and her responsibility to the West African region, the African continent and the global comity of nations. I consider myself one of these hordes of incurable optimists. And I am more privileged than most because all my life, I have had the singular opportunity of familiarizing myself with Nigeria at the point of her institutional and decisional frameworks. My optimism is therefore not just a wooly hopefulness. It is grounded in the institutional and leadership possibilities that I have encountered in my reform advocacy and administrative activities over the years. The history of Nigeria, indeed the history of her administrative evolution, tells many stories that should be outlined as critical landmines by which the Nigerian government could orient its present projections and future expectations. Nigeria is where she is today because we have often failed to seriously consider the crucial administrative insights delineated by the evolution of Nigeria from independence to date.

Nigeria’s status in so many significant indices—from misery to human development—is not good. The Nigerian state stands as a classic representation of the resource curse—the paradox of lack in the midst of plenty. From the 1960s, Nigeria’s development strategies have often been beautifully rendered in several development planning documents. The most recent of the development planning document is the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP—2017-2020). The time lag for this document makes this year a significant one for a comprehensive evaluation and reflection on how far Nigeria has gone and what needs to be done to push her father. 2020 has remained a critical year in Nigeria’s visioneering effort. The Vision 20:2020 projects that by the year 2020, “Nigeria will be among the 20 largest economies in the world.” The ERGP later emerged as a companion midterm plan to increase productivity, improve efficiency in the public and private sectors, achieve sustainable diversification of production and grow the economy.

We have finally arrived the year 2020, and the prognosis and diagnosis are not good. Statistical analysis of the Vision 2020 and the ERGP demonstrates that Nigeria’s economy is eminently underperforming. In the 2016 scorecard, only 3% of the objectives were achieved; 34% were exceeded, and 63% not achieved. For 2017, 32% were exceeded and 68% were not achieved. The 2018 scorecard is even worse: 29% exceeded, 71% not achieved. Essentially, the anxiety is not that Nigeria has stagnated for a long time, but that there is an ever present danger that she is getting near state failure.

The failure of development planning in Nigeria has become too obvious for us not to have learnt the lesson. From the 60s, it was already clear that Nigeria’s planning framework lacked the requisite discipline and statistical underpinnings to make it succeed. Projections and planning are more than mere rhetoric or arbitrary exercises in optimism. On the contrary, they are informed and carefully fabricated documents that considered feasible scenarios, their consequences and the measurable parameters that will make them achievable. Planning discipline is not only a function of administrative perspicacity but also political will. The tragedy of politicizing development agenda in Nigeria is that these planning lacked the crucial element of administrative continuity—they die before they are ever consolidated. Added to this is the lackluster attention that the political leadership pay to these documents. This is often because development agenda are too long-term for the short-term political gains politicians are looking for. When short-tern expectations do not square with long-term agenda, there is a lack of political ownership of the development and reform agenda. This is a critical learning we need to urgently learn in evaluating 2020, and in all post-2020 planning.

The fundamental objective of development projections is foregrounded on the capacity readiness of the public service. And this readiness is also a feature of the institutional readiness factored into the development planning. This is an institutional reform symbiosis that ensures that the public service system becomes capacity ready to deliver on development objectives because one of the development objectives is to facilitate the reform of the public service. The public service system is made up of critical ministries, departments and agencies. Two of these are the National Population Commission (NPC) and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The reason why should be obvious—knowing the population of Nigeria, as well as other critical demographic and governance statistics. Nigeria’s population figures have always been mired in deep political intrigues. If we are not sure of how many we are, or of the figures relating to poverty, unemployment, births and deaths, schooling and education, and many other matters, then how could we ever hope to plan scientifically?

All these are a function of the availability of a governance framework that adroitly weaves administrative dynamics into governance matters. In Nigeria, a key objective of national development is achieving a productivity paradigm that instigates economic growth. Here, the governance issue of unemployment merges seamlessly into the administrative issue of a functional public service to focus the necessity of an inter-generational consideration into the reform of the public service. The government remains the largest employer of labor in Nigeria. But the sad fact is that the public service is not attracting the best that the tertiary institutions can produce. Those who manage to get employed preferred the private sector. And when the youths eventually get into the public sector, it becomes a stepping stone into some other nongovernmental responsibilities that undermine productivity in the public sector. This implies that in reforming the public service, the reform energy must be on injecting, attracting and injecting the youths and their knowledge, competences and generational enthusiasm into the workforce in a way that transforms the workforce and drives the Nigerian public service system into the 21st century.

For the discerning reader, articulating an inter-generational framework for reforming the public service immediately raises the issue of a viable educational objective. For: how do we inject the youths into the productivity dynamics of the public service, and ultimately into the development objectives of the country, if the educational system is not grounded in a significant human capital development policy?

The second dimension of reforming the public service system involves articulating a framework and dynamics of attitudinal and culture change. The public service in Nigeria has become bureaucratic and less productive because its rules and regulations have congealed into a behavioral conformism that saps the managerial capacity of the public servant. The ultimate challenge is to then transform the public service into a performance-oriented, technology-based, productivity-minded, and entrepreneurial organization that learns from its administrative mistakes in order to meet future challenges. This attitudinal change goes to the very idea of who a public servant is and what public service entails. It demands, urgently, putting in place an actionable programme that is rooted in the framework of an integrity system which defines the ethical boundaries of a conscientious public servant.

The second part of revitalizing national reformation programme in Nigeria involves the idea of civic engagement as a double-edged factor that injects the citizens into the development project through civic participation which allows the people to be actively involved in their own empowerment. In the final analysis, the citizenry is the focal point of development planning and the national rebirth and reformation of the state. And therefore, it stands illogical that the citizens are just made the end users of development outcomes rather than being intimately involved with and owning the development paradigm and its consequences. Citizen development cuts to the very core of the democratic idea. The “will of the people” is the foundation on which any democratic experiment is founded. And the leadership is supposed to be the steward of that collective will. Part of the expression of the political will of the leadership, therefore, is the enthusiasm to implicate the “Nigerian Story”—in all its black, white and grays—in the outline of a civic education strategy that can bring Nigerians closer to the love of country. And so, again, we arrive at the significance of a proactive educational system that not only churns out graduates but also those who will be willing to put their skills and competences on the line for the transformation and the rebirth of the Nigerian nation.

Let me end this reflection with a fundamental quote from the former prime minister of Britain, Mr Tony Blair: “We know the problem, and we know the solution: sustainable development. The issue is the political will.” This quote speaks with intensity to the Nigerian condition, and the crucial element that stands between the Nigerian state and her potential greatness. The will of the political leadership is significant because it is on its wings that the will of the Nigerian people rides in the affirmation of the greatness of the Nigerian state.

*Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (tolaopa2003@gmail.com ; tolaopa@isgpp.com.ng)