2023 and Beyond: Unlocking Binding Constraints to Policy Execution in Nigeria
By Tunji Olaopa
2023 is significant in the annals of Nigerian history because it does not only signal a change of government, but more fundamentally, it signals a year that Nigeria could potentially get her bearing right, especially in terms of a seamless transition from election, to governance, to performance, and to national economic transformation. Given the dismal state of governance and development in the country, it seems sufficient for the incoming leadership, going by current excruciating experience of poverty and underdevelopment that Nigerians are going through, to hold itself to an objective of absolute commitment to transforming the Nigerian state. Every successor government is often confronted with a possibility of making history, by putting in place structures and processes that facilitate good governance, rather than conforming to the expected mold of failure. And so that opportunity might meet preparation, it behooves the ever-optimistic governance and institutional reformer scholar-practitioner in me, to keep outlining the templates and frameworks that any incoming government with the political will might require to really achieve the necessary changes that Nigerians have been waiting for. And there is no better platform than the //NES28 where I shared platform with an erudite panel made up of, HE Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, Mrs. Ifueko Imoigui-Okauru and, Mrs. Ofovwe Aig-Imoukhuede as session moderator, which interrogated the sub-theme: “Unlocking the Binding Constraints to Execution”.
Unfortunately, the success of any administration in Nigeria is a factor of the extent to which such an administration could engage with the complexities involved in the policy process that feeds into governance and development. Since independence, Nigeria has been plagued with acute policy failure resulting from the structural gap between policy objectives, development strategies and policy outcomes. And this structural gap implicates other fundamental issues from change, program and project management to sustainable talent and knowledge management, as well as the all-pervasive productivity problem.
One important way of opening up this discussion is to apply a diagnostic lens to Nigeria’s policymaking and implementation dynamics and trajectories in the light of current expectations about governance and development, as the basis for explaining past successes and failures, and then to use this as the platform for extrapolating future possibilities. It is from this diagnostic lens that we can then outline a framework of binding constraints, especially in terms of what have been identified as gross impediments to reforms and transformation, elements that needed strengthening and consolidation, as well as the solution framework around which new and potential drivers of national performance improvement and change management programme. Binding constraint is a technical term. It references a situation where an optimal solution to a problem is circumscribed or conditioned by a constraint. This means that the optimal solution would not be feasible if the binding constraint were to change even so slightly. In linear programming for instance, binding constraints constitute limitations to the feasibility of optimal solutions. Non-binding constraints, on the other hand, are equally limitations which have no effects whatsoever on the feasibility of optimal solutions. In administration, a constraint is binding if changing it also changes the optimal solution in terms of getting policy objectives translated into development dividends. What then are those issues that are really crucial for achieving an optimal understanding of reforming governance and development reforms in Nigeria, issues that are critical for putting 2023 and beyond in proper perspectives? I will identify and briefly discuss six of these binding constraints.
The first, and most inevitably, is leadership. All over the world, leadership sophistication is required to build a change space that put together a coalition around which reform and transformation of politics is facilitated. In other words, it is the first governance responsibility of the government to assemble the cabinet and other supporting teams with the requisite IQ, credentials, commitment and wisdom to get the task of realizing the governance and development objectives done. This remains the first condition for good governance and development everywhere, and it is more so in a country like Nigeria. It is the leadership factor, with the necessary political will, that then further provide the backing authority, conducive environment, accountability framework and performance metrics that make it difficult for the cabinet and support teams to focus on the tasks ahead without undue interference by, chiefly, the Nigerian factor, located around ethnic and religious shenanigans or outright prebendalism, another work for corruption.
The second constraint is the tendency, especially in practice, to separate between policy design and implementation process. Thus, despite an increasing managerial sophistication in program and project management, backed by change and performance management instruments and metrics, as well as the M&E system with the attendant feasibility and modelling dynamics that have become standard practices for monitoring execution traps and landmines, attention is paid to all this more in theory than in real policy and program protocols for policy implementation in Nigeria. There is therefore lack of clarity on the complex reality of the policy space and the understanding of the iterative process involved in getting the policy process, from design to implementation right, through strategic intelligence and the capability to deliver the policy objectives through the tracking and removal of performance obstacles. Such tracking also involves the identification and prioritizing of possible sources of implementation failures that needed to be appropriately managed, and the gathering of preliminary evidence on possible challenges that are likely to arise and create most serious barriers to successful implementation. On the contrary, and unfortunately, policy makers often operate with the assumption that laws, plans, policy and projects automatically gets implemented after they are designed or passed. Lots of available but scarce resources are then invested in policy development and strategy articulation, while implementation planning and analysis are neglected. This generate the implication that the contextual mapping of the implementation force-field is rarely done nor capability review of MDAs made an integral part of development planning and programming.
Another major constraint is the public service application of a service-wide, one-size-fits-all, operating protocol, that effectively achieve regulatory control at the expense of limiting discretion and creativity in project management. This constraint harks back to the issue of leadership sophistication that opens up a change space for competent change agents, located in the cabinet and supporting management teams, to operate efficiently. However, it stands to reason that even if the government is able to assemble such efficient teams, their capacity to achieve performance would immediately be circumscribed by a system that discourage administrative discretion and governance creativity that allow thinking out of the box. This allows us to identify another major constraint: the palpable absence of a reward and motivation template that could enable high-performance in government, in general. The public service system lacks performance management protocols and machineries, like performance agreement or contract, together with dynamics of incentives and rewards, for pushing the boundaries of performance and productivity. It is within the systemic crack that labor unions institute their adversarial industrial relations culture that further undermine the capacity of the system to become performance oriented, and hence efficient in technical-rational terms.
All these binding constraints only reiterate the familiar narrative about how Nigeria’s policy landscape is littered with beautiful plan documents and projects blueprints launched with fun fare. In pursuit of its effort to genuinely facilitate governance reform and transformation, government spend enormous resources hiring management consulting firms and policy experts to also brainstorm about the technical strategies that support policy programming and implementation. Unfortunately, all these efforts eventually end up being consigned to desk drawers and animated PowerPoint. Or else, the next government commissions a new set of feasibility studies and generate new blueprints and plans. All this inevitably culminated in gloomy statistics for the Nigerian economy and development efforts in almost all indices of human development. one suffices: the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index Survey, released by the National Bureau of Statistic, says that over 130 million Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. This figure represents a whooping 63% of the Nigerian population, and the highest poverty figure in Africa.
And here we return to the fundamentals: the real issue in the entire policymaking and governance challenge reside in the urgent need to balance between doing the right things (decision making quotient) and doing it right (getting things done or execution). Policy execution is the critical fundamental to transforming the policymaking and governance challenge in Nigeria. The days to keep multiplying governance plans, programs and blueprints are definitely over as we get closer to 2023 and the general election. The incoming administration really require to get its act together on doing it right! Visioning, planning and programming can no more be discrete sequential tasks, done at the detriment of one another. It must rather be conceived as an integrated and holistic one rooted on assumptions about the operating environment, public service capability readiness, and performance management of the whole dynamic, among other necessities.
And the starting point on the way forward is to scrutinize the current reform implementation strategy of the present administration. The National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR), since 2007, has set the frame for reflection about transforming the Nigerian public service system into a world class institution delivering efficient goods and services to Nigerians. And under the current Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), the iterations of the NSPSR deserves some loud applause for their foresights. Two key dimensions of these iterations involved professionalization and deepening of performance management process. First, there is the deployment of KPIs-based metrics to replace cumbersome APER system. This is meant to enable results-based and M&E-rooted assessment of public officers through the critical utilization of the elements of continuous assessment, dialogue and multi-source feedback mechanisms. The envisioned critical shift will be underpinned by a robust M&E reporting system undergirded by the dynamic of performance agreement, with job evaluation cum restructuring enabled new pay and incentive structure firmly indexed to productivity.
The Nigerian public service is equally digitizing work processes across all MDAs by capturing and storing documents and outputs of the civil service activities in a digital repository. This is a critical advancement given the evolving nature of administration 2.0 in a rapidly digitalizing world instigated by various disruptive technologies that are aiding the modernizing desires of administration all across the world to achieve open government. There is also the ongoing professionalizing of HR function across the service. This is manifest, most famously, through the HR component of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The system is also taking a path towards investing in a robust community of practice through capacity development that instigate a service-wide emergence of a network of experts and technocrats. This serves to beef up the service IQ, especially through the senior executive service, as concession to the wisdom to wit, the fish gets rotten from the head.
Of course, more effort is required to get Nigeria to a point where the cumulated bad governance of the past could be canceled by a concerted effort at ensuring good governance. We have gone too far in the wrong direction to think we could be satisfied with just the barest reform successes. We must keep pushing the bounds of reform effectiveness before we can dare to rest a bit on our oars. In the rest of this piece, I will outline five significant reform think points that could generate discourse around the condition of Nigeria’s governance and development objective, post 2023. These think pieces should also be seen as a means by which we could unbundle the binding constraints that have undermined Nigeria’s optimal reform solution for far too long.
One, and once again, we return to the irreducible challenge of leadership, and in this case, the need to create a change space for pushing the required governance change. Leadership serves as a regulatory and harnessing framework that not only generate a governing and governance vision that all can own, as Nigerians. But it must also crucially build a coalition of change agents and strategic teams all across the geo-political zones at the political, technocratic and bureaucratic levels. This readiness to create the change space already critically approximate the key points in arriving at a democratic developmental state. But even more, the cabinet and collaborative teams must not only be highly strategic, it must also be guided by performance agreement and contracts, circumscribed by a change management program, communication strategy, and monitoring and evaluation system that is strong enough to progressively identify and remove obstacles to performance, and configured to enable the different points of operations to work in harmony to achieve overall results and outcomes. This has the distinct advantage of preventing political jobbers and yes-men from undermining the resolve of the government. This way, the government can immediately identify the core functions and responsibilities that must be manned by high-end professionals in ways that cascade down the entire government. The performance agreement and accountability frameworks, grounded within dynamics of authority and incentivized support, are meant to guide the cabinet and strategic teams towards mediating the balance between “doing the right thing” and “doing it right.”
The second critical issue, which reinforces the transition of the Nigerian state into a developmental one, concerns the reengineering of the bureaucracy into a technically-reinforced institution that can achieve implementation capability readiness. Transforming Nigeria’s governance framework requires a public service that is intelligent, flexible, technology-driven, adaptable, forward-looking, entrepreneurial and accountable. Such a public service will: (a) work to deepen an evidence-based policymaking dynamic; (b) enable a policy management protocol that enhance collaborative sharing among MDAs, inter-sectoral synergy and inter-governmental relations; (c) better workforce and workplace planning that undermine hierarchies and remove red tapes, as well as manage talents and succession planning; (d) expand the post-COVID new normal work configuration through the institutionalization of remote working, flexible working hours, virtual framework for operations, and so on; (e) launch a rigorous waste reduction program that will instigate and enhance the national productivity paradigm shift through, for instance, the implementation of the Oronsaye report , productivity audits that free up resources for development projects, setting productivity targets for MDAs, and installing a technical-rational model for wage bargaining that is indexed to productivity, and that drives a democratic and developmental industrial relations.
Following the above as a correlation is the urgent need for Nigeria to develop, through its performance-oriented public service, a national service delivery model. Four years, from 2023 to 2027, are too little and too many to achieve great governance objectives if the incoming administration gets a better handle on time. The question is: what type of changes in four (4) years will translate to significant outcomes and dividends in the lives of the people? For instance, how many jobs can be created on an annual basis in the space of four years? What institutions will deliver these jobs, and how? What governmental procedures and processes will hamper the delivery of these jobs? These questions raise three critical issues. The first has to do with the administrative model the public service deploy in doing government business. The second concerns unbundling the cost of governance situation that disarticulate government’s capacity to deploy resources productively. The third issue is that of the requisite institutions that should be targeted to deliver jobs and create wealth. These institutions fall into three categories—those that implement national priority project; those that regulate rules-based market players like the SMEs; and the rule of law.
Restructuring the Nigerian federation is a fundamental issue that has gone through several thorny and controversial iterations and discourses. I presume, without going into the entire issue, that there are three significant areas that are indispensable to any restructuring framework. One, the idea of resource control. The question is how to stay true to the content of the 1963 Constitution, section 140(i), which provided for the regional control of minerals resources and recommended a 50% royalty to the central government. Two, the issue of state police cannot be wished away in the light of the degenerating levels of insecurity. Three, there is the crucial matter of how the sovereign wealth fund should be reconstituted to aid Nigeria during the rainy days.
Lastly, there is the issue of local government reform that harnesses grassroots governance through the principle of subsidiarity and the deployment of social capital dynamics. The shift from local government to local governance not only enrich Nigeria’s federal experiment, it also mobilizes a people-centered development that deepens citizens’ engagement and mobilizes bottom-up platforms for inclusive planning and programming, needs assessment, and project implementation reinforced with local accountability mechanism rooted in community development charter.
2023 is fast becoming Nigeria’s political, governance and development threshold; a critical point that define Nigeria’s sixty-three years of nation-building. The incoming administration cannot afford to fritter the opportunity of four solid years away on the usual business of patronage and primitive accumulation that will not only further impoverish Nigerians, but also heat up the polity in ways that further drive Nigeria to the precipice. There are ways to achieve institutional and governance reforms. All that is wanting is the political will to make them happen.
*Being a paper presented by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau State, at the 28th Nigerian Economic Summit – NES28th – on the theme 2023 & Beyond: Priorities for Shared Prosperity which held at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja on November 14 & 15, 2022 (email@example.com)