NIPSS as Nigeria’s Hub for Strategic Policy Intelligence

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By Tunji Olaopa

My mission in this piece is to relive the vision of the founding fathers in establishing the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies – NIPSS, and this I put in perspective in my new book titled NIPSS: Conception, Operations and Framework for Repositioning. Indeed, the Nigerian Constitution, in all its iterations and versions is, in a sense, a document of vision. To the extent, at least, that it delineates not only the administrative hierarchies of the Nigerian state and its governmental orders on the one hand, and that it also outlines the fundamental philosophical basis by which the Nigerian state is determined to order its development and progress on the other, it remains a document of vision, in a manner of speaking. This vision is titled “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.” Its limiting factor is that the section is not justiciable in spite of its grand and embedded ideological possibilities. That’s however not my concern in this piece.

Unfortunately, and in spite of the series of other visionary principles espoused since independence, the significant attempts at qualitatively transforming the well-being of the citizens Nigerian state has made very little success. The immediate post-independence period was a period of immense development planning that conceptualized the thoughts and visions of the Nigerian leadership about moving the Nigeria project forward. That project is essentially that of national integration— of bringing together the diverse ethnic attachments into one strong and unified national patriotic front that will become the basis for national development.

The palpable euphoria that attended the brilliant vision of the First Development Planning (1962- 1968) was brutally cut short by the commencement of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), and a long night of military incursion into politics. This implies that Nigeria had been struggling to make sense of her independence and post-independence development since the colonialists left. Series of development planning followed the end of the civil war without any meaningful changes and shifts towards a national structural transformation. And yet, despite the misadventure of the military in Nigerian politics, the administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo was sufficiently motivated to commence the rethinking of the Nigerian state and her vision. This awareness of Nigeria’s greatness, and the need to instigate and establish the institutional basis for good governance and national development, led to the eventual founding in 1979 of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS).

Just like the Nigerian Constitution, the establishment of NIPSS was also motivated by a vision. This is captured by the motto of NIPSS: Towards a better society. And so, it would seem that the founding father of NIPSS, as well as the committee that initiated its emergence, were in tune with the fundamental philosophical principles enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. This very fact alone transforms NIPSS not only into Nigeria’s preeminent think tank, but also a most crucial institutional plank in the transformation of Nigeria. Essentially, establishing NIPSS signaled the belief of the government that there is an institutional basis for making Nigeria better than it had been. This gesture towards institutionalism is in tune with the global recognition of the role of institutions in the transformation of nations and states. The role of institutions in the consolidation of democratic governance has become axiomatic in the attempt at making the state work for their citizens. The objective of the National Institute, as NIPSS is usually referred to, is stated simply in its originating Act: The Institute shall serve as high level centre of reflection, research, and dialogue where academics of intellectual excellence, policy initiators and executors and other citizens with high level of practical experience and wisdom drawn from different sectors of national life in Nigeria would meet to reflect and exchange ideas on the great issues of society, particularly as they relate to Nigeria and Africa, in the context of the dynamics of a constantly changing world.

In NIPSS: Conception, Operations and Framework for Repositioning, my new intellectual and administrative effort at placing a repositioned NIPSS within the ongoing reflection about the Nigerian project, I situate NIPSS as the median institutional framework between what Nigeria presently is and what it should become. Like all think tanks across the world, and especially government-owned think tanks, NIPSS is essentially mandated to research evidence-based policy recommendations that government will find useful in its policymaking process. Think tanks indeed exist mainly to inject policy intelligence into an otherwise politically motivated conception of policies by politicians and policymakers. And the advantage of the government-owned think tanks over other non-partisan ones is the close rapport that these unique entities have with the policymakers and the policymaking process. However, in the new critical study of NIPSS, I went beyond this traditional mandate of think tanks in the national policymaking process to reflect on the critical role that NIPSS could be reformed to play in the unfolding of a new Nigeria founded on a strong policy architecture and institutional framework. There is no other role that NIPSS could possibly play that transcend this.

In the development discourse, states especially in the third world are being called upon to reinvent themselves as a crucial player in the development dynamics. This role is often encapsulated in the concept of the developmental state. A developmental state is an institutionally aware state that backs its vision of good democratic governance with a reformist agenda of critical institutions around which evidence-based policies are implemented. It is in this sense that NIPSS becomes a significant plank in the government’s development agenda. And the idea is to look to NIPSS to furnish the policy options, backed by significant policy research and intelligence, that will facilitate government’s policy preferences and implementations. And it also behooves the National Institute to conscientiously deploy its strategic structural and personnel capacity towards providing the Nigerian government with the requisite inputs that will solidly weigh into the policymaking process.

But the issues involved in this development collaboration goes beyond what I have stated above. The idea of a new Nigeria must be understood beyond the mere reading of newness. COVID-19 new normal aside, all states across the world are already drawn willy nilly into the imperatives of the knowledge society. One of the implications of this new dispensation for governance is that it dispenses with the traditional understanding of the role and utility of a country’s comparative advantages. For Nigeria, for instance, and as for many other states, crude oil is fast becoming obsolete as a global economic factor. The telecommunication and digital technology revolution have shifted attention more to knowledge and technologies of knowledge than to traditional mineral resources. And countries like Japan, the United States and China with no significant resources are already the leader in the innovative development field. We should note the intense media campaign that is attached to the 5G network, and the furious race for who gets to it first. We should also note the alarming rate at which Nigeria’s crude oil is becoming irrelevant in the global economy.

The search for a new Nigeria, therefore, must be conceived in terms of a development agenda that is innovative and knowledge-based. This puts enormous pressure on the Nigerian leadership to focus on the dynamics of modernized policymaking protocol that will enable it to rethink its governance commitment to Nigerians. But much more than this, it places an onus on the government to critically begin to re-invest in NIPSS as a means of reinventing its conception and operational model. NIPSS came to life as a think tank whose mandate is to provide evidence-based research and policy analysis that will enable government to transform its policy conception and praxis. However, in a knowledge-based world, the task of think tanks themselves are getting reformulated at a rapid state. In other words, thinking is no longer sufficient for any think tank worth its salt; ‘doing’ has become the new imperative. And in a COVID-19 dispensation, the new imperative is critical for the new normal. It is quite significant that the search for a new Nigeria become heightened at this period when everything we used to know has become destabilized, and all our certainties have been undermined. Old administrative and governance practices can no longer suffice as the basis for development.

To reposition NIPSS is to rethink its capacity readiness to deliver on the new imperative of think- and-do tanking. This will be difficult because, first, it was conceived initially as a think tank. And second, its dependence on government limits its internal capacity to reinvent itself. This is the fate of most government-owned think tank and research institutes. This therefore places the onus of institutional reform and repositioning on the government and the leadership of NIPSS. The imperative of the new Nigeria cannot be achieved through the principle of politics as usual. It requires innovative rather than extractive political reflection. And NIPSS constitutes a most fundamental focal point for such an innovative transformation of the Nigerian state. Essentially, it is an institutional context that is mandated to reflect on and dialogue about the institutional and infrastructural dynamics of democratic governance in Nigeria. And its has waited forty-one years to step optimally into that role.

*Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor of Public Administration, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos (tolaopa2003@gmail.com tolaopa@isgpp.com.ng)